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Also by Aleksandr 1. Solzhenitsyn 

The Nobel Lecture on Literature 
August 1914 

A Lenten Letter to Pimen, Patriarch of All Russia 

Stories and Prose Poems 

The Love Girl and the Innocent 

The Cancer Ward 

The First Circle 

For the Good of the Cause 

We Never Make Mistakes 

One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich 

Aleksandr 1. Solzhenitsyn 



An Experiment in Literary Investigation 


Translated from the Russian by Thomas P. Whitney 

New York, Evanston, San Francisco, London 


I dedicate this 
to all those who did not live 
to tell it. 

And may they please forgive me 
for not having seen it all 
nor remembered it all, 
for not having divined all of it. 

Author’s Note 

For years I have with reluctant heart withheld from publication 
this already completed book: my obligation to those stUl living 
outweighed my obligation to the dead. But now that State Se¬ 
curity has seized the book anyway, I have no alternative but to 
publish it immediately. 

In this book there are no fictitious persons, nor fictitious events. 
People and places are named with fteir own names. If they are 
identified by initials instead of names, it is for personal considera¬ 
tions. If they are not named at all, it is only because human 
memory has failed to preserve their names. But it all took place 
just as it is here described. 


Preface ix 

PART I The Prison Industry 

1. Arrest 3 

2. The History of Our Sewage Disposal System 24 

3. The Interrogation 93 

4. The Bluecaps 144 

5. First Cell, First Love 179 

6. That Spring 237 

7. /n the Engine Room 277 

8. The Law as a Child 299 

9. The Law Becomes a Man 334 

10. The Law Matures 371 

11. The Supreme Measure 432 

12. Tyurzak 456 

PART II Perpetual Motion 

1. The Ships of the Archipelago 489 



2. The Ports of the Archipelago 533 

3. The Slave Caravans 565 

4. From Island to Island 588 

Translator’s Notes 616 


Names 621 

Institutions and Terms 637 

Index 642 


page 2 Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn 
In the army 
In detention 

After his release from camp 

page 488 Viktor Petrovich Pokrovsky 
Aleksandr Shtrobinder 
Vasily Ivanovich Anichkov 
Aleksandr Andreyevich Svechin 
Mikhail Aleksandrovich Reformatsky 
Yelizaveta Yevgenyevna Anichkova 


In 1949 some friends and I came upon a noteworthy news 
item in Nature, a magazine of the Academy of Sciences. It re¬ 
ported in tiny type that in the course of excavations on the 
Kol)mia River a subterranean ice lens had been discovered which 
was actually a frozen stream—and in it were found frozen speci¬ 
mens of prehistoric fauna some tens of thousands of years old. 
Whether fish or salamander, these were preserved in so fresh a 
state, the scientific correspondent reported, that those present 
immediately broke open the ice encasing the specimens and de¬ 
voured them with relish on the spot. 

The magazine no doubt astonished its small audience with the 
news of how successfully the flesh of fish could be kept fresh in 
a frozen state. But few, indeed, among its readers were able to 
decipher the genuine and heroic meaning of this incautious report. 

As for us, however—we understood instantly. We could picture 
the entire scene right down to the smallest details: how those 
present broke up the ice in frenzied haste; how, flouting the 
higher claims of ichthyology and elbowing each other to be first, 
they tore off chunks of the prehistoric flesh and hauled them over 
to the bonfire to thaw them out and bolt them down. 

We understood because we ourselves were the same kind of 
people as those present at that event. We, too, were from that 
powerful tribe of zeks, unique on the face of the earth, the only 
people who could devour prehistoric salamander with relish. 

And the Kolyma was the greatest and most famous island, the 



pole of ferocity of that amazing country of Gulag which, though 
scattered in an Archipelago geographically, was, in the psycho¬ 
logical sense, fused into a continent—an almost invisible, almost 
imperceptible country inhabited by the zek people. 

And this Archipelago crisscrossed and patterned that other 
country within which it was located, like a gigantic patchwork, 
cutting into its cities, hovering over its streets. Yet there were 
many who did not even guess at its presence and many, many 
others who had heard something vague. And only those who had 
been there knew the whole truth. 

But, as though stricken dumb on the islands of the Archipelago, 
they kept their silence. 

By an unexpected turn of our history, a bit of the truth, an 
insignificant part of the whole, was allowed out in the open. But 
those same hands which once screwed tight our handcuffs now 
hold out their palms in reconciliation: “No, don’t! Don’t dig up 
the past! Dwell on the past and you’ll lose an eye.” 

But the proverb goes on to say: “Forget the past and you’ll 
lose both eyes.” 

Decades go by, and the scars and sores of the past are healing 
over for good. In the course of this period some of the islands 
of the Archipelago have shuddered and dissolved and the polar 
sea of oblivion rolls over them. And someday in the future, this 
Archipelago, its air, and the bones of its inhabitants, frozen in 
a lens of ice, will be discovered by our descendants like some im¬ 
probable salamander. 

I would not be so bold as to try to write the history of the 
Archipelago. I have never had the chance to read the documents. 
And, in fact, will anyone ever have the chance to read them? 
Those who do not wish to recall have already had enough time— 
and will have more—^to destroy all the documents, down to the 
very last one. 

I have absorbed into myself my own eleven years there not as 
something shameful nor as a nightmare to be cursed: I have come 
almost to love that monstrous world, and now, by a happy turn 
of events, I have also been entrusted with many recent reports 
and letters. So perhaps I shall be able to give some account of 
the bones and flesh of that salamander—^which, incidentally, is 
still alive. 

Preface | xi 

This book could never have been created by one person alone. 
In addition to what I myself was able to take away from the 
Archipelago—on the skin of my back, and with my eyes and ears 
—material for this book was given me in reports, memoirs, and 
letters by 227 witnesses, whose names were to have been listed 

What I here express to them is not personal gratitude, because 
this is our common, collective monument to all those who were 
tortured and murdered. 

From among them I would like to single out in particular those 
who worked hard to help me obtain supporting bibliographical 
material from books to be found in contemporary libraries or 
from books long since removed from libraries and destroyed; 
great persistence was often required to find even one copy which 
had been preserved. Even more would I like to pay tribute to 
those who helped me keep this manuscript concealed in difficult 
periods and then to have it copied. 

But the time has not yet come when I dare name them. 

The old Solovetsky Islands prisoner Dmitri Petrovich Vitkov- 
sky was to have been editor of this book. But his half a lifetime 
spent there —indeed, his own camp memoirs are entitled “Half 
a Lifetime”—resulted in untimely paralysis, and it was not until 
after he had already been deprived of the gift of speech that he 
was able to read several completed chapters only and see for 
himself that everything will be told. 


And if freedom still does not dawn on my country for a long 
time to come, then the very reading and handing on of this book 
will be very dangerous, so that I am bound to salute future readers 
as well—on behalf of those who have perished. 

When I began to write this book in 1958,1 knew of no memoirs 
nor works of literature dealing with the camps. During my years 
of work before 1967 I gradually became acquainted with the 
Kolyma Stories of Varlam Shalamov and the memoirs of Dmitri 
Vitkovsky, Y. Ginzburg, and O. Adamova-Sliozberg, to which 
I refer in the course of my narrative as literary facts known to 
all (as indeed they someday shall be). 

Despite their intent and against their will, certain persons pro¬ 
vided invaluable material for this book and helped preserve many 
important facts and statistics as well as the very air they breathed: 
M. I. Sudrabs-Latsis, N. V. Krylenko, the Chief State Prosecutor 
for many years, his heir A. Y. Vyshinsky, and those jurists who 
were his accomplices, among whom one must single out in par¬ 
ticular I. L. Averbakh. 

Material for this book was also provided by thirty-six Soviet 
writers, headed by Maxim Gorky, authors of the disgraceful book 
on the White Sea Canal, which was the first in Russian literature 
to glorify slave labor. 


The Prison Industry 

“In the period of dictatorship, surrounded on all sides by 
enemies, we sometimes manifested unnecessary leniency 
and unnecessary softheartedness.” 


speech at the Promparty trial 

■ V -/ ■U’fe-.': 

Chapter 1 


How do people get to this clandestine Archipelago? Hour by 
hour planes fly there, ships steer their course there, and trains 
thunder off to it—^but all with nary a mark on them to tell of their 
destination. And at ticket windows or at travel bureaus for Soviet 
or foreign tourists the employees would be astounded if you were 
to ask for a ticket to go there. They know nothing and they’ve 
never heard of the Archipelago as a whole or of any one of its 
innumerable islands. 

Those who go to the Archipelago to administer it get there via 
the training schools of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. 

Those who go there to be guards are conscripted via the military 
conscription centers. 

And those who, like you and me, dear reader, go there to die, 
must get there solely and compulsorily via arrest. 

Arrest! Need it be said that it is a breaking point in your life, 
a bolt of lightning which has scored a direct hit on you? That 
it is an unassimilable spiritual earthquake not every person can 
cope with, as a result of which people often slip into insanity? 

The Universe has as many different centers as there are living 
beings in it. Each of us is a center of the Universe, and that 
Universe is shattered when they hiss at you: “You are under 

If you are arrested, can anything else remain unshattered by 
this cataclysm? 

But the darkened mind is incapable of embracing these dis¬ 
placements in our universe, and both the most sophisticated and 



the veriest simpleton among us, drawing on all life’s experience, 
can gasp out only: “Me? What for?” 

And this is a question which, though repeated millions and 
millions of times before, has yet to receive an answer. 

Arrest is an instantaneous, shattering thrust, expulsion, somer¬ 
sault from one state into another. 

We have been happily borne—or perhaps have unhappily 
dragged our weary way-^own the long and crooked streets of 
our lives, past all kinds of walls and fences made of rotting wood, 
rammed earth, brick, concrete, iron railings. We have never given 
a thought to what lies behind them. We have never tried to pene¬ 
trate them with our vision or our understanding. But there is 
where the Gulag country begins, right next to us, two yards away 
from us. In addition, we have failed to notice an enormous num¬ 
ber of closely fitted, well-disguised doors and gates in these 
fences. All those gates were prepared for us, every last one! And 
all of a sudden the fateful gate swings quickly open, and fom’ 
white male hands, unaccustomed to physical labor but none¬ 
theless strong and tenacious, grab us by the leg, arm, collar, cap, 
ear, and drag us in like a sack, and the gate behind us, the gate to 
our past life, is slammed shut once and for all. 

That’s all there is to it! You are arrested! 

And you’ll find nothing better to respond with than a lamblike 
bleat: “Me? What for?” 

That’s what arrest is: it’s a blinding flash and a blow which 
shifts the present instantly into the past and the impossible into 
omnipotent actuality. 

That’s aU. And neither for the first hour nor for the first day 
will you be able to grasp anything else. 

Except that in your desperation the fake circus moon will blink 
at you: “It’s a mistake! They’ll set things right!” 

And everything which is by now comprised in the traditional, 
even literary, image of an arrest wiU pile up and take shape, not 
in your own disordered memory, but in what your family and 
your neighbors in your apartment remember: The sharp night¬ 
time ring or the rude knock at the door. The insolent entrance 
of the unwiped jackboots of the unsleeping State Security oper¬ 
atives. The frightened and cowed civilian witness at their backs. 
(And what function does this civilian witness serve? The victim 
doesn’t even dare think about it and the operatives don’t remem- 

Arrest \ 5 

ber, but that’s what the regulations call for, and so he has to sit 
there all night long and sign in the morning.^ For the witness, 
jerked from his bed, it is torture too—^to go out night after night 
to help arrest his own neighbors and acquaintances.) 

The traditional image of arrest is also trembling hands packing 
for the victim—a change of underwear, a piece of soap, some¬ 
thing to eat; and no one knows what is need^, what is permitted, 
what clothes are best to wear; and the Security agents keep in¬ 
terrupting and hurrying you; 

“You don’t need anything. They’ll feed you there. It’s warm 
there.” (It’s all lies. They keep hurrying you to frighten you.) 

The traditional image of arrest is also what happens afterward, 
when the poor victim has been taken away. It is an alien, brutal, 
and crushing force totally dominating the apartment for hours on 
end, a breaking, ripping open, pulling from the walls, emptying 
things from wardrobes and desks onto the floor, shaking, dumping 
out, and ripping apart—^piling up mountains of litter on the floor 
—and the crunch of things being trampled beneath jackboots. 
And nothing is sacred in a search! During the arrest of the loco¬ 
motive engineer Inoshin, a tiny coffin stood in his room containing 
the body of his newly dead child. The “jurists” dumped the child’s 
body out of the coffin and searched it. They shake sick people out 
of their sickbeds, and they unwind bandages to search beneath 

Nothing is so stupid as to be inadmissible during a search! 
For example, they seized from the antiquarian Chetverukhin “a 
certain number of pages of Tsarist decrees”—^to wit, the decree 
on ending the war with Napoleon, on the formation of the Holy 
Alliance, and a proclamation of public prayers against cholera 
during the epidemic of 1830. From our greatest expert on Tibet, 
Vostrikov, they confiscated ancient Tibetan manuscripts of great 
value; and it took the pupils of the deceased scholar thirty years 
to wrest them from the KGB! When the Orientalist Nevsky was 

1. The regulation, purposeless in itself, derives, N.M. recalls, from that 
strange time when the citizenry not only was supposed to but actually dared to 
verify the actions of the police. 

2, When in 1937 they wiped out Dr. Kazakov’s institute, the “commission” 
broke up the jars containing the lysates developed by him, even though patients 
who had been cured and others still being treated rushed around them, begging 
them to preserve the miraculous medicines. (According to the official version, 
the lysates were supposed to be poisons; in that case, why should they not have 
been kept as material evidence?) 


arrested, they grabbed Tangut manuscripts—and twenty-five 
years later the deceased victim was posthumously awarded a 
Lenin Prize for deciphering them. From Karger they took his 
archive of the Yenisei Ostyaks and vetoed the alphabet and 
vocabulary he had developed for this people—and a small na¬ 
tionality was thereby left without any written language. It would 
take a long time to describe all this in educated speech, but there’s 
a folk saying about the search which covers the subject: They are 
looking for something which was never put there. They carry off 
whatever they have seized, but sometimes they compel the 
arrested individual to carry it. Thus Nina Aleksandrovna Pal- 
chinskaya hauled over her shoulder a bag filled with the papers 
and letters of her eternally busy and active husband, the late 
great Russian engineer, carrying it into their maw—once and 
for all, forever. 

For those left behind after the arrest there is the long tail end 
of a wrecked and devastated life. And the attempts to go and 
deliver food parcels. But from all the windows the answer comes 
in barking voices: “Nobody here by that name!” “Never heard 
of him!” Yes, and in the worst days in Leningrad it took five 
days of standing in crowded lines just to get to that window. And 
it may be only after half a year or a year that the arrested person 
responds at all. Or else the answer is tossed out: “Deprived of the 
right to correspond.” And that means once and for aU. “No right 
to correspondence”—and that almost for certain means: “Has 
been shot.”® 

That’s how we picture arrest to ourselves. 

The kind of night arrest described is, in fact, a favorite, be¬ 
cause it has important advantages. Everyone living in the apart¬ 
ment is thrown into a state of terror by the first knock at the door. 
The arrested person is tom from the warmth of his bed. He is in 
a daze, half-asleep, helpless, and his judgment is befogged. In a 
night arrest the State Security men have a superiority in numbers; 
there are many of them, armed, against one person who hasn’t 

3. In other words, “We live in the cursed conditions in which a human 
being can disappear into the void and even his closest relatives, his mother and 
his wife ... do not know for years what has become of him.” Is that right 
or not? That is what Lenin wrote in 1910 in his obituary of Babushkin. But 
let’s speak frankly: Babushkin was transporting arms for an uprising, and was 
caught with them when he was shot. He knew what he was doing. You couldn’t 
say that about helpless rabbits like us. 

Arrest \ 1 

even finished buttoning his trousers. During the arrest and search 
it is highly improbable that a crowd of potential supporters will 
gather at the entrance. The unhurried, step-by-step visits, first to 
one apartment, then to another, tomorrow to a third and a fourth, 
provide an opportunity for the Security operations personnel to 
be deployed with the maximum efficiency and to imprison 
many more citizens of a given town than the police force itself 

In addition, there’s an advantage to night arrests in that neither 
the people in neighboring apartment houses nor those on the city 
streets can see how many have been taken away. Arrests which 
frighten the closest neighbors are no event at all to those farther 
away. It’s as if they had not taken place. Along that same asphalt 
ribbon on which the Black Marias scurry at night, a tribe of 
youngsters strides by day with banners, flowers, and gay, un¬ 
troubled songs. 

But those who take, whose work consists solely of arrests, for 
whom the horror is boringly repetitive, have a much broader un¬ 
derstanding of how arrests operate. They operate according to a 
large body of theory, and innocence must not lead one to ignore 
this. The science of arrest is an important segment of the course 
on general penology and has been propped up with a substantial 
body of social theory. Arrests are classified according to various 
criteria: nighttime and daytime; at home, at work, during a 
journey; first-time arrests and repeats; individual and group 
arrests. Arrests are distinguished by the degree of surprise 
required, the amount of resistance expected (even though in tens 
of millions of cases no resistance was expected and in fact there 
was none). Arrests are also differentiated by the thoroughness of 
the required search;^ by instructions either to make out or not to 

4. And there is a separate Science of Searches too. I have had the chance 
to read a pamphlet on this subject for correspondence-school law students in 
Alma-Ata. Its author praises highly those police officials who in the course of 
their searches went so far as to turn over two tons of manure, eight cubic 
yards of firewood, or two loads of hay; cleaned the snow from an entire 
collective-farm vegetable plot, dismantled brick ovens, dug up cesspools, 
checked out toilet bowls, looked into doghouses, chicken coops, birdhouses, 
tore apart mattresses, ripped adhesive tape off people’s bodies and even tore 
out metal teeth in the search for microfilm. Students were advised to begin 
and to end with a body search (during the course of the search the arrested 
person might have grabbed up something that had already been examined). 
They were also advised to return to the site of a search at a different time of 
day and carry out the search all over again. 


make out an inventory of confiscated property or seal a room or 
apartment; to arrest the wife after the husband and send the 
children to an orphanage, or to send the rest of the family into 
exile, or to send the old folks to a labor camp too. 

No, no: arrests vary widely in form. In 1926 Irma Mendel, a 
Hungarian, obtained through the Comintern two front-row 
tickets to the Bolshoi Theatre. Interrogator Klegel was courting 
her at the time and she invited him to go with her. They sat 
through the show very affectionately, and when it was over he 
took her—straight to the Lubyanka. And if on a flowering June 
day in 1927 on Kuznetsky Most, the plump-cheeked, redheaded 
beauty Anna Skripnikova, who had just bought some navy-blue 
material for a dress, climbed into a hansom cab with a young 
man-about-town, you can be sure it wasn’t a lovers’ tryst at all, as 
the cabman understood very well and showed by his frown (he 
knew the Organs don’t pay). It was an arrest. In just a moment 
they would turn on the Lubyanka and enter the black maw of the 
gates. And if, some twenty-two springs later. Navy Captain 
Second Rank Boris Burkovsky, wearing a white tunic and a trace 
of expensive eau de cologne, was buying a cake for a young lady, 
do not take an oath that the cake would ever reach the young 
lady and not be sliced up instead by the knives of the men search¬ 
ing the captain and then delivered to him in his flrst cell. No, one 
certainly cannot say that daylight arrest, arrest diuring a journey, 
or arrest in the middle of a crowd has ever been neglected in our 
country. However, it has always been clean-cut—and, most sur¬ 
prising of all, the victims, in cooperation with the Security men, 
have conducted themselves in the noblest conceivable manner, so 
as to spare the living from witnessing the death of the condemned. 

Not everyone can be arrested at home, with a preliminary 
knock at the door (and if there is a knock, then it has to be the 
house manager or else the postman). And not everyone can be 
arrested at work either. If the person to be arrested is vicious, 
then it’s better to seize him outside his ordinary milieu—away 
from his family and colleagues, from those who share his views, 
from any hiding places. It is essential that he have no chance to 
destroy, hide, or pass on anything to anyone. VIP’s in the military 
or the Party were sometimes first given- new assignments, en¬ 
sconced in a private railway car, and then arrested en route. Some 

Arrest | 9 

obscure, ordinary mortal, scared to death by epidemic arrests all 
around him and already depressed for a week by sinister glances 
from his chief, is suddenly summoned to the local Party com¬ 
mittee, where he is beamingly presented with a vacation ticket to 
a Sochi sanatorium. The rabbit is overwhelmed and inunediately 
concludes that his fears were groundless. After expressing his 
gratitude, he hurries home, triumphant, to pack his suitcase. It 
is only two hours till train time, and he scolds his wife for being 
too slow. He arrives at the station with time to spare. And there 
in the waiting room or at the bar he is hailed by an extraordinar¬ 
ily pleasant young man; “Don’t you remember me, Pyotr 
Ivanich?” Pyotr Ivanich has difficulty remembering: “Well, not 
exactly, you see, although...” The young man, however, is over¬ 
flowing with friendly concern: “Come now, how can that be? I’U 
have to remind you. . . .” And he bows respectfully to Pyotr 
Ivanich’s wife: “You must forgive us. I’ll keep him only one 
minute” The wife accedes, and trustingly the husband lets him¬ 
self be led away by the arm—^forever or for ten years! 

The station is thronged—and no one notices anything. . . . 
Oh, you citizens who love to travel! Do not forget that in every 
station there are a GPU Branch and several prison cells. 

This importunity of alleged acquaintances is so abrupt that 
only a person who has not had the wolfish preparation of camp 
fife is likely to pull back from it. Do not suppose, for example, 
that if you are an employee of the American Embassy by the 
name of Alexander D. you cannot be arrested in broad daylight 
on Gorky Street, right by the Central Telegraph Office. Your im- 
familiar friend dashes through the press of the crowd, and opens 
his plundering arms to embrace you: “Saaasha!” He simply 
shouts at you, with no effort to be inconspicuous. “Hey, pal! Long 
time no see! Come on over, let’s get out of the way.” At Ibat 
moment a Pobeda sedan draws up to the curb. . . . And several 
days later TASS will issue an angry statement to all the papers 
alleging that informed circles of the Soviet government have no 
information on the disappearance of Alexander D. But what’s so 
unusual about that? Our boys have carried out such arrests in 
Brussels—^which was where ^ora Blednov was seized—^not just 
in Moscow. 

One has to give the Organs their due: in an age when public 


speeches, the plays in our theaters, and women’s fashions all 
seem to have come off assembly lines, arrests can be of the most 
varied kind. They take you aside in a factory corridor after you 
have had your pass checked—^and you’re arrested. They take you 
from a military hospital with a temperature of 102, as they did 
with Ans Bernshtein, and the doctor will not raise a peep about 
your arrest—^just let him try! They’ll take you right off the operat¬ 
ing table—as they took N. M. Vorobyev, a school inspector, in 
1936, in the middle of an operation for stomach ulcer—and drag 
you off to a cell, as they did him, half-alive and all bloody (as 
Karpunich recollects). Or, like Nadya Levitskaya, you try to get 
information about your mother’s sentence, and they give it to 
you, but it turns out to be a confrontation—and your own arrest! 
In the Gastronome—^the fancy food store—^you are invited to the 
special-order department and arrested there. You are arrested by 
a religious pilgrim whom you have put up for the night “for the 
sake of Christ.” You are arrested by a meterman who has come 
to read your electric meter. You are arrested by a bicyclist who 
has run into you on the street, by a railway conductor, a taxi 
driver, a savings bank teller, the manager of a movie theater. Any 
one of them can arrest you, and you notice the concealed maroon- 
colored identification card only when it is too late. 

Sometimes arrests even seem to be a game—there is so much 
superfluous imagination, so much well-fed energy, invested in 
them. After all, the victim would not resist anyway. Is it that the 
Security agents want to justify their employment and their num¬ 
bers? After all, it would seem enough to send notices to all the 
rabbits marked for arrest, and they would show up obediently at 
the designated hour and minute at the iron gates of State Security 
with a bundle in their hands—^ready to occupy a piece of floor in 
the cell for which they were intended. And, in fact, that’s the way 
collective farmers are arrested. Who wants to go all the way to 
a hut at night, with no roads to travel on? They are summoned to 
the village soviet—and arrested there. Manual workers are called 
into the office. 

Of course, every machine has a point at which it is overloaded, 
beyond which it cannot function. In the strained and overloaded 
years of 1945 and 1946, when trainload after trainload poured 
in from Europe, to be swallowed up immediately and sent off to 

Arrest \ 11 

Gulag, all that excessive theatricality went out the window, and 
the whole theory suffered greatly. All the fuss and feathers of 
ritual went flying in every direction, and the arrest of tens of 
thousands took on the appearance of a squalid roll call; they 
stood there with lists, read off the names of those on one train, 
loaded them onto another, and that was the whole arrest. 

For several decades political arrests were distinguished in our 
country precisely by the fact that people were arrested who were 
guilty of nothing and were therefore unprepared to put up any 
resistance whatsoever. There was a general feeling of being 
destined for destruction, a sense of having nowhere to escape 
from the GPU-NKVD (which, incidentally, given our internal 
passport system, was quite accurate). And even in the fever of 
epidemic arrests, when people leaving for work said farewell to 
their families every day, because they could not be certain they 
would return at night, even then almost no one tried to run away 
and only in rare cases did people commit suicide. And that was 
exactly what was required. A submissive sheep is a find for a wolf. 

This submissiveness was also due to ignorance of the mech¬ 
anics of epidemic arrests. By and large, the Organs had no pro¬ 
found reasons for their choice of whom to arrest and whom not 
to arrest. They merely had over-all assignments, quotas for a 
specific number of arrests. These quotas might be filled on an 
orderly basis or wholly arbitrarily. In 1937 a woman came to 
the reception room of the Novocherkassk NKVD to ask what 
she should do about the unfed unweaned infant of a neighbor who 
had been arrested. They said: “Sit down, we’ll find out.” She sat 
there for two hours—whereupon they took her and tossed her 
into a cell. They had a total plan which had to be fulfilled in a 
hurry, and there was no one available to send out into the city 
—and here was this woman already in their hands! 

On the other hand, the NKVD did come to get the Latvian 
Andrei Pavel near Orsha. But he didn’t open the door; he jumped 
out the window, escaped, and shot straight to Siberia. And even 
though he lived under his own name, and it was clear from his 
documents that he had come from Orsha, he was never arrested, 
nor summoned to the Organs, nor subjected to any suspicion 
whatsoever. After all, search for wanted persons falls into three 
categories: All-Union, republican, and provincial. And the pur- 


suit of nearly half of those arrested in those epidemics would have 
been confined to the provinces. A person marked for arrest by 
virtue of chance circumstances, such as a neighbor’s denuncia¬ 
tion, could be easily replaced by another neighbor. Others, like 
Andrei Pavel, who found themselves in a trap or an ambushed 
apartment by accident, and who were bold enough to escape im¬ 
mediately, before they could be questioned, were never caught 
and never charged; while those who stayed behind to await justice 
got a term in prison. And the overwhelming majority—almost 
all—^behaved just like that: without any spirit, helplessly, with a 
sense of doom. 

It is true, of course, that the NKVD, in the absence of the 
person it wanted, would make his relatives guarantee not to leave 
the area. And, of course, it was easy enough to cook up a case 
against those who stayed behind to replace the one who had fled. 

Universal innocence also gave rise to the universal failure to 
act. Maybe they won’t take you? Maybe it will all blow over? A. 
I. Ladyzhensky was the chief teacher in a school in remote Kolo- 
griv. In 1937 a peasant approached him in an open market and 
passed him a message from a third person: “Aleksandr Ivanich, 
get out of town, you are on the listr But he stayed: After all, the 
whole school rests on my shoulders, and their own children are 
pupils here. How can they arrest me? (Several days later he was 
arrested.) Not everyone was so fortunate as to understand at the 
age of fourteen, as did Vanya Levitsky: “Every honest man is 
sure to go to prison. Right now my papa is serving time, and 
when I grow up they’ll put me in too.” (They put him in when he 
was twenty-three years old.) The majority sit quietly and dare to 
hope. Since you aren’t guilty, then how can they arrest you? 
It’s a mistake! They are already dragging you along by the collar, 
and you still keep on exclaiming to yourself: “It’s a mistake! 
They’ll set things straight and let me out!" Others are being 
arrested en masse, and that’s a bothersome fact, but in those other 
cases there is always some dark area: “Maybe he was guilty... ?” 
But as for you, you are obviously innocent! You still believe that 
the Organs are humanly logical institutions: they will set things 
straight and let you out. 

Why, then, should you run away? And how can you resist 
right then? After all, you’ll only make your situation worse; you’ll 

Arrest ] 13 

make it more difiScult for them to sort out the mistake. And it 
isn’t just that you don’t put up any resistance; you even walk 
down the stairs on tiptoe, as you are ordered to do, so your 
neighbors won’t hear.® 

At what exact point, then, should one resist? When one’s belt 
is taken away? When one is ordered to face into a corner? When 
one crosses the threshold of one’s home? An arrest consists of a 
series of incidental irrelevancies, of a multitude of things that do 
not matter, and there seems no point in arguing about any one of 
them individually—especially at a time when the thoughts of the 
person arrested are wrapped tightly about the big question: “What 
for?”—and yet all these incidental irrelevancies taken together 
implacably constitute the arrest. 

Almost anything can occupy the thoughts of a person who has 
just been arrested! This alone would fill volumes. There can be 
feelings which we never suspected. When nineteen-year-old 

5. And how we burned in the camps later, thinking: What would things 
have been like if every Security operative, when he went out at night to mafc 
an arrest, had been uncertain whether he would return alive and had to say 
good-bye to his family? Or if, during periods of mass arrests, as for example 
in Leningrad, when they arrested a quarter of the entire city, people had not 
simply sat there in their lairs, paling with terror at every bang of the down¬ 
stairs door and at every step on the staircase, but had understood they had 
nothing left to lose and had boldly set up in the downstairs hall an ambush of 
half a dozen people with axes, hammers, pokers, or whatever else was at hand? 
After all, you knew ahead of time that those bluecaps were out at night for 
no good purpose. And you could be sure ahead of time that you’d be 
cracking the skull of a cutthroat. Or what about the Black Maria sitting out 
there on the street with one lonely chauffeur—^what if it had been driven off 
or its tires spiked? The Organs would very quickly have suffered a shortage of 
officers and transport and, notwithstanding all of Stalin’s thirst, the cursed 
machine would have ground to a halt! 

If . . . if . . . We didn’t love freedom enough. And even more—^we had no 
awareness of the real situation. We spent ourselves in one unrestrained outburst 
in 1917, and then we hurried to submit. We submitted with pleasure! (Arthiu* 
Ransome describes a workers’ meeting in Yaroslavl in 1921. Delegates were 
sent to the workers from the Central Committee in Moscow to confer on the 
substance of the argument about trade unions. The representative of the oppo¬ 
sition, Y. Larin, explained to the workers that their trade union must be their 
defense against the administration, that they possessed rights which they had 
won and upon which no one else had any right to infringe. The workers, how¬ 
ever, were completely indifferent, simply not comprehending whom they still 
needed to be defended against and why they still needed any rights. When the 
spokesman for the Party line rebuked them for their laziness and for getting 
out of hand, and demanded sacrifices from them—overtime work without pay, 
reductions in food, military discipline in the factory administration—^this 
aroused great elation and applause.) We purely and simply deserved everything 
that happened afterward. 


Yevgeniya Doyarenko was arrested in 1921 and three young 
Chekists were poking about her bed and through the underwear 
in her chest of drawers, she was not disturbed. There was nothing 
there, and they would find nothing. But all of a sudden they 
touched her personal diary, which she would not have shown even 
to her own mother. And these hostile young strangers reading the 
words she had written was more devastating to her than the whole 
Lubyanka with its bars and its cellars. It is true of many that the 
outrage inflicted by arrest on their personal feelings and attach¬ 
ments can be far, far stronger than their political beliefs or their 
fear of prison. A person who is not inwardly prepared for the 
use of violence against him is always weaker than the person 
committing the violence. 

There are a few bright and daring individuals who understand 
instantly. Grigoryev, the Director of the Geological Institute of 
the Academy of Sciences, barricaded himself inside and spent two 
hours burning up his papers when they came to arrest him in 

Sometimes the principal emotion of the person arrested is relief 
and even happiness! This is another aspect of human natmre. It 
happened before the Revolution too: the Yekaterinodar school¬ 
teacher Serdyukova, involved in the case of Aleksandr Ulyanov, 
felt only relief when she was arrested. But this feeling was a 
thousand times stronger during epidemics of arrests when aU 
around you they were hauling in people like yourself and still had 
not come for you; for some reason they were taking their time. 
After all, that kind of exhaustion, that kind of suffering, is worse 
than any kind of arrest, and not only for a person of limited cour¬ 
age. Vasily Vlasov, a fearless Communist, whom we shall recall 
more than once later on, renounced the idea of escape proposed 
by his non-Party assistants, and pined away because the entire 
leadership of the Kady District was arrested in 1937, and they 
kept delaying and delaying his own arrest. He could only endure 
the blow head on. He did endure it, and then he relaxed, and 
during the first days after his arrest he felt marvelous. In 1934 
the priest Father Irakly went to Alma-Ata to visit some believers 
in exile there. During his absence they came three times to his 
Moscow apartment to arrest him. When he returned, members 
of his flock met him at the station and refused to let him go home. 

Arrest \ 15 

and for eight years hid him in one apartment after another. The 
priest suffered so painfully from this harried life that when he was 
finally arrested in 1942 he sang hymns of praise to God. 

In this chapter we are speaking only of the masses, the helpless 
rabbits arrested for no one knows what reason. But in this book 
we will also have to touch on those who in postrevolutionary times 
remained genuinely political. Vera Rybakova, a Social Demo¬ 
cratic student, dreamed when she was in freedom of being in the 
detention center in Suzdal. Only there did she hope to encounter 
her old comrades—for there were none of them left in freedom. 
And only there could she work out her world outlook. The Socialist 
Revolutionary—the SR—Yekaterina Olitskaya didn’t consider 
herself worthy of being imprisoned in 1924. After all, Russia’s 
best people had served time and she was still young and had not 
yet done anything for Russia. But freedom itself was expelling 
her. And so both of them went to prison—with pride and hap¬ 

“Resistance! Why didn’t you resist?” Today those who have 
continued to live on in comfort scold those who suffered. 

Yes, resistance should have begun right there, at the moment 
of the arrest itself. 

But it did not begin. 

And so they are leading you. During a daylight arrest there is 
always that brief and unique moment when they are leading you, 
either inconspicuously, on the basis of a cowardly deal you have 
made, or else quite openly, their pistols unholstered, through a 
crowd of hundreds of just such doomed innocents as yourself. 
You aren’t gagged. You really can and you really ought to cry 
out —to cry out that you are being arrested! That villains in dis¬ 
guise are trapping people! That arrests are being made on the 
strength of false denunciations! That millions are being subjected 
to silent reprisals! If many such outcries had been heard all over 
the city in the course of a day, would not our fellow citizens 
perhaps have begun to bristle? And would arrests perhaps no 
longer have been so easy? 

In 1927, when submissiveness had not yet softened oiu: brains 
to such a degree, two Chekists tried to arrest a woman on Serpu¬ 
khov Square during the day. She grabbed hold of the stanchion of 


a streetlamp and began to scream, refusing to submit. A crowd 
gathered. (There had to have been that kind of woman; there had 
to have been that kind of crowd too! Passers-by didn’t all just 
close their eyes and hurry by!) The quick young men immediately 
became flustered. They can’t work in the public eye. They got 
into their car and fled. (Right then and there she should have 
gone to a railroad station and left! But she went home to spend 
the night. And during the night they took her off to the Lub- 

Instead, not one sound comes from your parched lips, and 
that passing crowd nmvely believes that you and your execu¬ 
tioners are friends out for a stroU. 

I myself often had the chance to cry out. 

On the eleventh day after my arrest, three SMERSH bums, 
more burdened by fom suitcases full of war booty than by me 
(they had come to rely on me in the course of the long trip), 
brought me to the Byelorussian Station in Moscow. They were 
called a Special Convoy —in other words, a special escort guard 
—^but in actual fact their automatic pistols only interfered with 
their dragging along the four terribly heavy bags of loot they 
and their chiefs in SMERSH counterintelligence on the Second 
Byelorussian Front had plundered in Germany and were now 
bringing to their families in the Fatherland under the pretext of 
convoying me. I myself lugged a fifth suitcase with no great joy 
since it contained my diaries and literary works, which were 
being used as evidence against me. 

Not one of the three knew the city, and it was up to me to pick 
the shortest route to the prison. I had personally to conduct them 
to the Lubyanka, where they had never been before (and which, 
in fact, I confused with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs). 

I had spent one day in the counterintelligence prison at army 
headquarters and three days in the counterintelligence prison at 
the headquarters of the front, where my cellmates had educated 
me in the deceptions practiced by the interrogators, their threats 
and beatings; in the fact that once a person was arrested he was 
never released; and in the inevitability of a tenner, a ten-year 
sentence; and then by a miracle I had suddenly burst out of there 
and for four days had traveled like a jree person among free 
people, even though my flanks had already lain on rotten straw 

Arrest \ 17 

beside the latrine bucket, my eyes had already beheld beaten-up 
and sleepless men, my ears had heard the truth, and my mouth 
had tasted prison gruel. So why did I keep silent? Why, in my 
last minute out in the open, did I not attempt to enlighten the 
hoodwinked crowd? 

I kept silent, too, in the Polish city of Brodnica—^but maybe 
they didn’t understand Russian there. I didn’t call out one word 
on the streets of Bialystok—^but maybe it wasn’t a matter that 
concerned the Poles. I didn’t utter a sound at the Volkovysk Sta¬ 
tion—^but there were very few people there. I walked along the 
Minsk Station platform beside those same bandits as if nothing 
at all were amiss—^but the station was still a ruin. And now I 
was leading the SMERSH men through the circular upper con¬ 
course of the Byelorussian-Radial subway station on the Moscow 
circle Une, with its white-ceilinged dome and brilliant electric 
lights, and opposite us two parallel escalators, thickly packed 
with Muscovites, rising from below. It seemed as though they 
were all looking at me! They kept coming in an endless ribbon 
from down there, from the depths of ignorance—on and on 
beneath the gleaming dome, reaching toward me for at least one 
word of truth—so why did I keep silent? 

Every man always has handy a dozen glib little reasons why 
he is right not to sacrifice himself. 

Some stiU have hopes of a favorable outcome to their case and 
are afraid to ruin their chances by an outcry. (For, after all, we 
get no news from that other world, and we do not realize that 
from the very moment of arrest our fate has almost certainly 
been decided in the worst possible sense and that we cannot 
make it any worse.) Others have not yet attained the mature con¬ 
cepts on which a shout of protest to the crowd must be based. 
Indeed, only a revolutionary has slogans on his lips that are 
crying to be uttered aloud; and where would the uninvolved, 
peaceable average man come by such slogans? He simply does 
not know what to shout. And then, last of all, there is the person 
whose heart is too full of emotion, whose eyes have seen too 
much, for that whole ocean to pour forth in a few disconnected 

As for me, I kept silent for one further reason: because those 
Muscovites thronging the steps of the escalators were too few for 


me, too few! Here my cry would be heard by 200 or twice 200, 
but what about the 200 million? Vaguely, unclearly, I had a 
vision that someday I would cry out to the 200 million. 

But for the time being I did not open my mouth, and the 
escalator dragged me implacably down into the nether world. 
And when I got to Okhotny Ryad, I continued to keep silent. 
Nor did I utter a cry at the Metropole Hotel. 

Nor wave my arms on the Golgotha of Lubyanka Square. 

Mine was, probably, the easiest imaginable kind of arrest. It did 
not tear me from the embrace of kith and kin, nor wrench me 
from a deeply cherished home life. One pallid European February 
it took me from our narrow salient on the Baltic Sea, where, de¬ 
pending on one’s point of view, either we had surrounded the 
Germans or they had surrounded us, and it deprived me only of 
my familiar artillery battery and the scenes of the last three 
months of the war. 

The brigade commander called me to his headquarters and 
asked me for my pistol; I turned it over without suspecting any 
evil intent, when suddenly, from a tense, immobile suite of staff 
officers in the corner, two counterintelligence officers stepped for¬ 
ward hurriedly, crossed the room in a few quick bounds, their 
four hands grabbed simultaneously at the star on my cap, my 
shoulder boards, my officer’s belt, my map case, and they shouted 

“You are under arrest!” 

Burning and prickling from head to toe, all I could exclaim 

“Me? What for?” 

And even though there is usually no answer to this question, 
surprisingly I received one! This is worth recalling, because it is 
so contrary to our usual custom. Hardly had the SMERSH men 
finished “plucking” me and taken my notes on political subjects, 
along with my map case, and begun to push me as quickly as 
possible toward the exit, urged on by the German shellfire rattling 
the windowpanes, than I heard myself firmly addressed—^yes! 
Across the sheer gap separating me from those left behind, the 

Arrest \ 19 

gap created by the heavy-falling word “arrest,” across that 
quarantine line not even a sound dared penetrate, came the un¬ 
thinkable, magic words of the brigade commander: 

“Solzhenitsyn. Come back here.” 

With a sharp turn I broke away from the hands of the 
SMERSH men and stepped back to the brigade commander. I 
had never known him very well. He had never condescended to 
run-of-the-mill conversations with me. To me his face had always 
conveyed an order, a command, wrath. But right now it was 
illuminated in a thoughtful way. Was it from shame for his own 
involuntary part in this dirty business? Was it from an impulse 
to rise above the pitiful subordination of a whole lifetime? Ten 
days before, I had led my own reconnaissance battery almost in¬ 
tact out of the fire pocket in which the twelve heavy guns of his 
artillery battalion had been left, and now he had to renounce me 
because of a piece of paper with a seal on it? 

“You have . . .” he asked weightily, “a friend on the First 
Ukrainian Front?” 

“It’s forbidden! You have no right!” the captain and the 
major of counterintelligence shouted at the colonel. In the cor¬ 
ner, the suite of staff officers crowded closer to each other in 
fright, as if they feared to share the brigade commander’s un¬ 
believable rashness (the political officers among them already 
preparing to present materials against him). But I had already 
understood: I knew instantly I had been arrested because of my 
correspondence with a school friend, and understood from what 
direction to expect danger. 

Zakhar Georgiyevich Travkin could have stopped right there! 
But no! Continuing his attempt to expunge his part in this and 
to stand erect before his own conscience, he rose from behind 
his desk—^he had never stood up in my presence in my former 
life—and reached across the quarantine line that separated us 
and gave me his hand, although he would never have reached 
out his hand to me had I remained a free man. And pressing my 
hand, while his whole suite stood there in mute horror, showing 
that warmth that may appear in an habitually severe face, he said 
fearlessly and precisely: 

“I wish you happiness. Captain!” 

Not only was I no longer a captain, but I had been exposed 


as an enemy of the people (for among us every person is totally 
exposed from the moment of arrest). And he had wished happi¬ 
ness—^to an enemy?* 

The panes rattled. The German shells tore up the earth two 
hundred yards away, reminding one that this could not have 
happened back in the rear, under the ordinary circumstances of 
established existence, but only out here, under the breath of 
death, which was not only close by but in the face of which all 
were equal. 

This is not going to be a volume of memoirs about my own 
life. Therefore I am not going to recount the truly amusing de¬ 
tails of my arrest, which was like no other. That night the 
SMERSH officers gave up their last hope of being able to make 
out where we were on the map—they never had been able to 
read maps anyway. So they politely handed the map to me and 
asked me to tell the driver how to proceed to counterintelligence 
at army headquarters. I, therefore, led them and myself to that 
prison, and in gratitude they immediately put me not in an 
ordinary cell but in a punishment cell. And I really must describe 
that closet in a German peasant house which served as a tem¬ 
porary punishment cell. 

It was the length of one human body and wide enough for 
three to lie packed tightly, four at a pinch. As it happened, I was 
the fourth, shoved in after midnight. The three lying there 
blinked sleepily at me in the light of the smoky kerosene lantern 
and moved over, giving me enough space to lie on my side, half 
between them, half on top of them, until gradually, by sheer 
weight, I could wedge my way in. And so four overcoats lay on 
the crushed-straw-covered floor, with eight boots pointing at the 
door. They slept and I burned. The more self-assured I had been 
as a captain half a day before, the more painful it was to crowd 
onto the floor of that closet. Once or twice the other fellows 
woke up numb on one side, and we all turned over at the same 

6. Here is what is most surprising of all: one can be a human being despite 
everything! Nothing happened to Travkin. Not long ago, we met again cordially, 
and I really got to know him for the first time. He is a retired general and an 
inspector of the Hunters’ Alliance. 

Arrest \ 21 

Toward morning they awoke, yawned, grunted, pulled up 
their legs, moved into various comers, and our acquaintance 

“What are you in for?” 

But a troubled little breeze of caution had already breathed on 
me beneath the poisoned roof of SMERSH and I pretended to 
be surprised: 

“No idea. Do the bastards tell you?” 

However, my cellmates—tankmen in soft black helmets—^hid 
nothing. They were three honest, openhearted soldiers—^people 
of a kind I had become attached to during the war years because 
I myself was more complex and worse. All three had been 
officers. Their shoulder boards also had been viciously torn oflf, 
and in some places the cotton batting stuck out. On their stained 
field shirts light patches indicated where decorations had been 
removed, and there were dark and red scars on their faces and 
arms, the results of wounds and bums. Their tank unit had, un¬ 
fortunately, arrived for repairs in the village where the SMERSH 
counterintelligence headquarters of the Forty-eighth Army was 
located. Still damp from the battle of the day before, yesterday 
they had gotten drunk, and on the outskirts of the village broke 
into a bath where they had noticed two raunchy broads going to 
bathe. The girls, half-dressed, managed to get away all right 
from the soldiers’ staggering, drunken legs. But one of them, it 
turned out, was the property of the army Chief of Counterintelli¬ 
gence, no less. 

Yes! For three weeks the war had been going on inside Ger¬ 
many, and aU of us knew very well that if the girls were German 
they could be raped and then shot. This was almost a combat 
distinction. Had they been Polish girls or our own displaced 
Russian girls, they could have been chased naked around the 
garden and slapped on the behind—an amusement, no more. 
But just because this one was the “campaign wife” of the Chief 
of Counterintelligence, right off some deep-in-the-rear sergeant 
had viciously torn from three front-line officers the shoulder 
boards awarded them by the front headquarters and had taken 
off the decorations conferred upon them by the Presidium of the 
Supreme Soviet. And now these warriors, who had gone through 
the whole war and who had no doubt cmshed more than one 


line of enemy trenches, were waiting for a court-martial, whose 
members, had it not been for their tank, could have come no¬ 
where near the village. 

We put out the kerosene lamp, which had already used up all 
the air there was to breathe. A Judas hole the size of a postage 
stamp had been cut in the door and through it came indirect 
light from the corridor. Then, as if afraid that with the coming 
of daylight we would have too much room in the punishment 
cell, they tossed in a fifth person. He stepped in wearing a newish 
Red Army tunic and a cap that was also new, and when he 
stopped opposite the peephole we could see a fresh face with a 
tumed-up nose and red cheeks. 

“Where are you from, brother? Who are you?” 

“From the other side,” he answered briskly. “A shhpy.” 

“You’re kidding!” We were astounded. (To be a spy and to 
admit it—Sheinin and the brothers Tur had never written that 
kind of spy story!) 

“What is there to kid about in wartime?” the young fellow 
sighed reasonably. “And just how else can you get back home 
from being a POW? Well, you tell me!” 

He had barely begun to tell us how, some days back, the 
Germans had led him through the front lines so that he could 
play the spy and blow up bridges, whereupon he had gone im¬ 
mediately to the nearest battalion headquarters to turn himself 
in; but the weary, sleep-starved battalion commander hadn’t 
believed his story about being a spy and had sent him oft to the 
nurse to get a pill. And at that moment new impressions burst 
upon us; 

“Out for toilet call! Hands behind your backs!” hollered a 
master sergeant hardhead as the door sprang open; he was just 
built for swinging the tail of a 122-millimeter cannon. 

A circle of machine gunners had been strung around the 
peasant courtyard, guarding the path which was pointed out to 
us and which went behind the bam. I was bursting with indigna¬ 
tion that some ignoramus of a master sergeant dared to give 
orders to us officers: “Hands behind your backs!” But the tank 
officers put their hands behind them and I followed suit. 

Back of the bam was a small square area in which the snow 
had been all trampled down but had not yet melted. It was soiled 

Arrest \ 23 

all over with human feces, so densely scattered over the whole 
square that it was diflScult to find a spot to place one’s two feet 
and squat. However, we spread ourselves about and the five of us 
did squat down. Two machine gunners grimly pointed their 
machine pistols at us as we squatted, and before a minute had 
passed the master sergeant brusquely urged us on: 

“Come on, hurry it up! With us Aey do it quickly!” 

Not far from me squatted one of the tankmen, a native of 
Rostov, a tall, melancholy senior lieutenant. His face was 
blackened by a thin film of metallic dust or smoke, but the big 
red scar stretching across his cheek stood out nonetheless. 

“What do you mean, with us?” he asked quietly, indicating no 
intention of hurrying back to the punishment cell that still stank 
of kerosene. 

“In SMERSH counterintelligence!” the master sergeant shot 
back proudly and more resonantly than was called for. (The 
counterintelligence men used to love that tastelessly concocted 
word “SMERSH,” manufactured from the initial syUables of the 
words for “death to spies.” They felt it intimidated people.) 

“And with us we do it slowly,” replied the senior lieutenant 
thoughtfully. His helmet was pulled back, uncovering his still 
untrimmed hair. His oaken, battle-hardened rear end was lifted 
toward the pleasant coolish breeze. 

“Where do you mean, with us?” the master sergeant barked at 
him more loudly than he needed to. 

“In the Red Army,” the senior lieutenant replied very quietly 
from his heels, measuring with his look the cannon-tailer that 
never was. 

Such were my first gulps of prison air. 

Chapter 2 

The History of Our 
Sewage Disposal System 

When people today decry the abuses of the cult, they keep 
getting hung up on those years which are stuck in our throats, 
’37 and ’38. And memory begins to make it seem as though 
arrests were never made before or after, but only in those two 

Although I have no statistics at hand, I am not afraid of erring 
when I say that the wave of 1937 and 1938 was neither the only 
one nor even the main one, but only one, perhaps, of the three 
biggest waves which strained the murky, stinking pipes of our 
prison sewers to bursting. 

Before it came the wave of 1929 and 1930, the size of a good 
River Ob, which drove a mere fifteen million peasants, maybe 
even more, out into the taiga and the tundra. But peasants are 
a silent people, without a literary voice, nor do they write com¬ 
plaints or memoirs. No interrogators sweated out the night with 
them, nor did they bother to draw up formal indictments—^it was 
enough to have a decree from the village soviet. This wave 
poured forth, sank down into the permafrost, and even our most 
active minds recall hardly a thing about it. It is as if it had not 
even scarred the Russian conscience. And yet Stalin (and you 
and I as well) committed no crime more heinous than this. 

And after it there was the wave of 1944 to 1946, the size of 
a good Yenisei, when they dumped whole nations down the 
sewer pipes, not to mention millions and millions of others who 


The History of Our Sewage Disposal System \ 25 

(because of us!) had been prisoners of war, or carried off to 
Germany and subsequently repatriated. (This was Stalin’s 
method of cauterizing the wounds so that scar tissue would form 
more quickly, and thus the body politic as a whole would not 
have to rest up, catch its breath, regain its strength.) But in this 
wave, too, the people were of the simpler kind, and they wrote 
no memoirs. 

But the wave of 1937 swept up and carried off to the Archi¬ 
pelago people of position, people with a Party past, yes, educated 
people, around whom were many who had been wounded and re¬ 
mained in the cities ... and what a lot of them had pen in hand! 
And today they are all writing, speaking, remembering; “Nine¬ 
teen thirty-seven!” A whole Volga of the people’s grief! 

But just say “Nineteen thirty-seven” to a Crimean Tatar, a 
Kalmyk, a Chechen, and he’ll shrug his shoulders. And what’s 
1937 to Leningrad when 1935 had come before it? And for the 
second-termers (i.e., repeaters), or people from the Baltic coun¬ 
tries—weren’t 1948 and 1949 harder on them? And if sticklers 
for style and geography should accuse me of having omitted 
some Russian rivers, and of not yet having named some of the 
waves, then just give me enough paper! There were enough 
waves to use up the names of all the rivers of Russia! 

It is well known that any organ withers away if it is not used. 
Therefore, if we know that the Soviet Security organs, or Organs 
(and they christened themselves with this vile word), praised 
and exalted above all living things, have not died off even to the 
extent of one single tentacle, but, instead, have grown new ones 
and strengthened their muscles—^it is easy to deduce that they 
have had constant exercise. 

Through the sewer pipes the flow pulsed. Sometimes the 
pressure was higher than had been projected, sometimes lower. 
But the prison sewers were never empty. The blood, the sweat, 
and the urine into which we were pulped pulsed through them 
continuously. The history of this sewage system is the history of 
an endless swallow and flow; flood alternating with ebb and ebb 
again with flood; waves pouring in, some big, some small; brooks 
and rivulets flowing in from all sides; trickles oozing in through 
gutters; and then just plain individually scooped-up droplets. 

The chronological list which follows, in which waves made up 


of millions of arrested persons are given equal attention with 
ordinary streamlets of unremarkable handfuls, is quite incom¬ 
plete, meager, miserly, and limited by my own capacity to pene¬ 
trate the past. What is really needed is a great deal of additional 
work by survivors familiar with the material. 

In compiling this list the most difficult thing is to begin, partly 
because the further back into the decades one goes, the fewer the 
eyewitnesses who are left, and therefore the light of common 
knowledge has gone out and darkness has set in, and the written 
chronicles either do not exist or are kept under lock and key. 
Also, it is not entirely fair to consider in a single category the 
especially brutal years of the Civil War and the first years of 
peacetime, when mercy might have been expected. 

But even before there was any Civil War, it could be seen that 
Russia, due to the makeup of its population, was obviously not 
suited for any sort of socialism whatsoever. It was totally 
polluted. One of the first blows of the dictatorship was directed 
against the Cadets—the members of the Constitutional Demo¬ 
cratic Party. (Under the Tsar they had constituted the most 
dangerous ranks of revolution, and under the government of the 
proletariat they represented the most dangerous ranks of re¬ 
action.) At the end of November, 1917, on the occasion of the 
first scheduled convening of the Constituent Assembly, which 
did not take place, the Cadet Party was outlawed and arrests of 
its members began. At about the same time, people associated 
with the “Alliance for the Constituent Assembly” and the students 
enrolled in the “soldiers’ universities” were being thrown in the jug. 

Knowing the sense and spirit of the Revolution, it is easy to 
guess that during these months such central prisons as Kresty in 
Petrograd and the Butyrki in Moscow, and many provincial 
prisons like them, were filled with wealthy men, prominent 
public figures, generals and officers, as weU as officials of minis¬ 
tries and of the state apparatus who refused to carry out the 
orders of the new authority. One of the first operations of the 
Cheka was to arrest the entire committee of the All-Russian 
Union of Employees. 

The History of Our Sewage Disposal System \ 27 

One of the first circulars of the NKVD, in December, 1917, 
stated: “In view of sabotage by ofiicials . . . use maximum 
initiative in localities, not excluding confiscations, compulsion, 
and arrests.”^ 

And even though V. I. Lenin, at the end of 1917, in order to 
establish “strictly revolutionary order,” demanded “merciless 
suppression of attempts at anarchy on the part of drunkards, 
hooligans, counterrevolutionaries, and other persons”^—^in other 
words, foresaw that drunkards and hooligans represented the 
principal danger to the October Revolution, with counterrevolu¬ 
tionaries somewhere back in third place—he nonetheless put the 
problem more broadly. In his essay “How to Organize the Com¬ 
petition” (January 7 and 10, 1918), V. I. Lenin proclaimed the 
conunon, united purpose of “purging the Russian land of all 
kinds of harmful insects.”® And under the term insects he in¬ 
cluded not only all class enemies but also “workers malingering 
at their work”—^for example, the typesetters of the Petrograd 
Party printing shops. (That is what time does. It is difficult for 
us nowadays to understand how workers who had just become 
dictators were immediately inclined to malinger at work they 
were doing for themselves.) And then again: “In what block 
of a big city, in what factory, in what village . . . are there not 
. . . saboteurs who call themselves intellectuals?”^ True, the 
forms of insect-purging which Lenin conceived of in this essay 
were most varied: in some places they would be placed under 
arrest, in other places set to cleaning latrines; in some, “after 
having served their time in punishment cells, they would be 
handed yellow tickets”; in others, parasites would be shot; else¬ 
where you could take your pick of imprisonment “or punishment 
at forced labor of the hardest kind.”® Even though he perceived 
and suggested the basic directions punishment should take, Vla¬ 
dimir Ilyich proposed that “conununes and communities” should 
compete to find the best methods of purging. 

It is not possible for us at this time fully to investigate exactly 

1. Vestnik NKVD {NKVD Herald), 1917, No. 1, p. 4. 

2. Lenin, Sobrannye Sochineniya {Collected Works), fifth edition, Vol. 35, 

p. 68. 

3. Ibid., p. 204. 

4. Ibid. 

5. Ibid., p. 203. 


who fell within the broad definition of insects; the population of 
Russia was too heterogeneous and encompassed small, special 
groups, entirely superfluous and, today, forgotten. The people in 
the local zemstvo self-governing bodies in the provinces were, 
of course, insects. People in the cooperative movement were also 
insects, as were all owners of their own homes. There were not a 
few insects among the teachers in the gymnasiums. The church 
parish councils were made up almost exclusively of insects, and 
it was insects, of course, who sang in church choirs. All priests 
were insects—and monks and nuns even more so. And all those 
Tolstoyans who, when they undertook to serve the Soviet govern¬ 
ment on, for example, the railroads, refused to sign the required 
oath to defend the Soviet government with gun in hand thereby 
showed themselves to be insects too. (We will later see some of 
them on trial.) The railroads were particularly important, for 
there were indeed many insects hidden beneath railroad uni¬ 
forms, and they had to be rooted out and some of them slapped 
down. And telegraphers, for some reason, were, for the most 
part, inveterate insects who had no sympathy for the Soviets. 
Nor could you say a good word about Vikzhel, the All-Russian 
Executive Committee of the Union of Railroad Workers, nor 
about the other trade unions, which were often filled with insects 
hostile to the working class. 

Just those groups we have so far enumerated represent an 
enormous number of people—several years’ worth of purge 

In addition, how many kinds of cursed intellectuals there were 
—^restless students and a variety of eccentrics, truth-seekers, and 
holy fools, of whom even Peter the Great had tried in vain to 
purge Russia and who are always a hindrance to a well-ordered, 
strict regime. 

It would have been impossible to carry out this hygienic purg¬ 
ing, especially under wartime conditions, if they had had to 
follow outdated legal processes and normal judicial procedures. 
And so an entirely new form was adopted: extrajudicial reprisal, 
and this thankless job was self-sacrificingly assumed by the Che¬ 
ka, the Sentinel of the Revolution, which was the only punitive 
organ in human history that combined in one set of hands in¬ 
vestigation, arrest, interrogation, prosecution, trial, and execu¬ 
tion of the verdict. 

The History of Our Sewage Disposal System | 29 

In 1918, in order to speed up the cultural victory of the Revo¬ 
lution as well, they began to ransack the churches and throw out 
the relics of saints, and to carry off church plate. Popular dis¬ 
orders broke out in defense of the plundered churches and mon¬ 
asteries. Here and there the alarm bells rang out, and the true 
Orthodox believers rushed forth, some of them with clubs. 
Naturally, some had to be expended right on the spot and others 

In considering now the period from 1918 to 1920, we are in 
difficulties: Should we classify among the prison waves all those 
who were done in before they even got to prison cells? And in 
what classification should we put those whom the Committees of 
the Poor took behind the wing of the village soviet or to the 
rear of the courtyard, and finished off right there? Did the parti¬ 
cipants in the clusters of plots uncovered in every province (two 
in Ryazan; one in Kostroma, Vyshni Volochek, and Velizh; 
several in Kiev; several in Moscow; one in Saratov, Chernigov, 
Astrakhan, Seliger, Smolensk, Bobruisk, the Tambov Cavalry, 
Chembar, Velikiye Luki, Mstislavl, etc.) at least succeed in 
setting foot on the land of the Archipelago, or did they not— 
and are they therefore not related to the subject of our investiga¬ 
tions? Bypassing the repression of the now famous rebellions 
(Yaroslavl, Murom, Rybinsk, Arzamas), we know of certain 
events only by their names—^for instance, the Kolpino executions 
of June, 1918. What were they? Who were they? And where 
should they be classified? 

There is also no little difficulty in deciding whether we should 
classify among the prison waves or on the balance sheets of the 
Civil War those tens of thousands of hostages, i.e., people not 
personally accused of anything, those peaceful citizens not even 
listed by name, who were taken off and destroyed simply to 
terrorize or wreak vengeance on a military enemy or a re¬ 
bellious population. After August 30, 1918, the NKVD ordered 
the localities “to arrest immediately all Right Socialist Revolution¬ 
aries and to take a significant number of hostages from the bour¬ 
geoisie and military officers.”® (This was just as if, for example, 
after the attempt of Aleksandr Ulyanov’s group to assassinate the 
Tsar, not only its members but all the students in Russia and a 
significant number of zemstvo officials had been arrested.) By 

6. Vestnik NKVD, 1918, No. 21-22, p. 1. 


a decree of the Defense Council of February 15, 1919—appar¬ 
ently with Lenin in the chair—^the Cheka and the NKVD were 
ordered to take hostage peasants from those localities where the 
removal of snow from railroad tracks “was not proceeding satis¬ 
factorily,” and “if the snow removal did not take place they were 
to be shot.”^ (At the end of 1920, by decree of the Council of 
People’s Commissars, permission was given to take Social Demo¬ 
crats as hostages too.) 

But even restricting ourselves to ordinary arrests, we can note 
that by the spring of 1918 a torrent of socialist traitors had 
already begun that was to continue without slackening for many 
years. All these parties—^the SR’s, the Mensheviks, the An¬ 
archists, the Popular Socialists—^had for decades only pretended 
to be revolutionaries; they had worn socialism only as a mask, 
and for that they went to hard labor, still pretending. Only dur¬ 
ing the violent course of the Revolution was the bourgeois 
essence of these socialist traitors discovered. What could be more 
natural than to begin arresting them! Soon after the outlawing 
of the Cadets, the dispersal of the Constituent Assembly, the dis¬ 
arming of the Preobrazhensky and other regiments, they began 
in a small way to arrest, quietly at first, both SR’s and Men¬ 
sheviks. After June 14, 1918, the day members of these parties 
were excluded from all the soviets, the arrests proceeded in a 
more intensive and more coordinated fashion. From July 6 on, 
they began to deal with the Left SR’s in the same way, though 
the Left SR’s had been cleverer and had gone on pretending 
longer that they were allies of the one and only consistent party 
of the proletariat. From then on, it was enough for a workers’ 
protest, a disturbance, a strike, to occur at any factory or in any 
little town (and there were many of them in the summer of 1918; 
and in March, 1921, they shook Petrograd, Moscow, and then 
Kronstadt and forced the inauguration of the NEP), and— 
coinciding with concessions, assurances, and the satisfaction for 
the just demands of the workers—the Cheka began silently to 
pick up Mensheviks and SR’s at night as being the people truly 
to blame for these disorders. In the summer of 1918 and in 
April and October of 1919, they jailed Anarchists right and 

7. Dekrety Sovetskoi Vlasti {Decrees of the Soviet Regime), Vol. 4, Moscow, 
1968, p. 627. 

The History of Our Sewage Disposal System \ 31 

left. In 1919 they arrested all the members of the SR Central 
Committee they could catch—and kept them imprisoned in the 
Butyrki up to the time of their trial in 1922. In that same year, 
Latsis, a leading Chekist, wrote of the Mensheviks: “People of 
this sort are more than a mere hindrance to us. That is why we 
remove them from our path, so they won’t get under our feet.... 
We put them away in a secluded, cozy place, in the Butyrki, and 
we are going to keep them there until the struggle between 
capital and labor comes to an end.”® In 1919, also, Ae delegates 
to the Non-Party Workers Congress were arrested; as a result, 
the Congress never took place.® 

In 1919, suspicion of our Russians returning from abroad was 
already having its effect (Why? What was their alleged assign¬ 
ment?)—thus the officers of the Russian expeditionary force in 
France were imprisoned on their homecoming. 

In 1919, too, what with the big hauls in connection with such 
actual and pseudo plots as the “National Center” and the “Mili¬ 
tary Plot,” executions were carried out in Moscow, Petrograd, 
and other cities on the basis of lists —^in other words, free people 
were simply arrested and executed immediately, and right and 
left those elements of the intelligentsia considered close to the 
Cadets were raked into prison. (What does the term “close to 
the Cadets” mean? Not monarchist and not socialist: in other 
words, all scientific circles, all university circles, all artistic, liter¬ 
ary, yes, and, of course, all engineering circles. Except for the 
extremist writers, except for the theologians and theoreticians 
of socialism, all the rest of the intelligentsia, 80 percent of it, 
was “close to the Cadets.”) In that category, for example, Lenin 
placed the writer Korolenko—“a pitiful petty bourgeois, im¬ 
prisoned in bourgeois prejudices.”^® He considered it was “not 
amiss” for such “talents” to spend a few weeks in prison.^^ 
From Gorky’s protests we learn of individual groups that were 
arrested. On September 15, 1919, Lenin replied to him : “It 
is clear to us that there were some mistakes.” But: “What a 

8. M. L Latsis, Dva Goda Borby na Vnutrennom Fronte; Populyarni Obzor 
Deyatelnosti ChK {Two Years of Struggle on the Home Front; Popular Review 
of the Activity of the Cheka) ^ Moscow, GIZ, 1920, p. 61. 

9. Ibid,, p. 60. 

10. Lenin, fifth edition, Vol. 51, pp. 47, 48. 

11. Ibid,, p. 48. 


misfortune, just think about it! What injustice!”^^ And he ad¬ 
vised Gorky “not to waste [his] energy whimpering over rotten 

From January, 1919, on, food requisitioning was organized 
and food-collecting detachments were set up. They encountered 
resistance everywhere in the rural areas, sometimes stubborn 
and passive, sometimes violent. The suppression of this opposi¬ 
tion gave rise to an abundant flood of arrests during the course 
of the next two years, not counting those who were shot on the 

I am deliberately bypassing here the major part of the grinding 
done by the Cheka, the Special Branches, and the Revolutionary 
Tribunals as the front line advanced and cities and provinces 
were occupied. And that same NKVD directive of August 30, 
1918, ordered that efforts be made to ensure “the unconditional 
execution of all who had been involved in White Guard work.” 
But sometimes it is not clear where to draw the line. By the 
summer of 1920, for example, the Civil War had not entirely 
ended everywhere. But it was over on the Don; nonetheless offi¬ 
cers were sent from there en masse—^from Rostov, and from 
Novocherkassk—to Archangel, whence they were transported to 
the Solovetsky Islands, and, it is said, several of the barges were 
sunk in the White Sea and in the Caspian Sea. Now should this 
be billed to the Civil War or to the beginning of peacetime re¬ 
construction? In Novocherkassk, in the same year, they shot the 
pregnant wife of an officer because she had hidden her husband. 
In what classification should she be put? 

In May, 1920, came the well-known decree of the Central 
Committee “on Subversive Activity in the Rear.” We know 
from experience that every such decree is a call for a new wave 
of widespread arrests; it is the outward sign of such a wave. 

A particular difficulty—and also a particular advantage—^in 
the organization of all these waves was the absence of a criminal 
code or any system of criminal law whatsoever before 1922. 
Only a revolutionary sense of justice (always infallible) guided 
those doing the purging and managing the sewage system when 
they were deciding whom to take and what to do with them. 

In this survey we are not going to investigate the successive 

12. Ibid., p. 47. 

13. Ibid., p. 49. 

The History of Our Sewage Disposal System \ 33 

waves of habitual criminals (ugolovniki) and nonpolitical of¬ 
fenders (bytoviki). Therefore we will merely recall that the 
country-wide poverty and shortages during the period when the 
government, all institutions, and the laws themselves were being 
reorganized could serve only to increase greatly the number of 
thefts, robberies, assaults, bribes, and the resale of merchandise 
for excessive profit (speculation). Even though these crimes 
presented less danger to the existence of the Republic, they, too, 
had to be repressed, and their own waves of prisoners served to 
swell the waves of counterrevolutionaries. And there was specu¬ 
lation, too, of a purely political character, as was pointed out in 
the decree of the Council of People’s Commissars signed by 
Lenin on July 22, 1918: “Those guilty of selling, or buying up, 
or keeping for sale in the way of business food products which 
have been placed under the monopoly of the Republic [A peasant 
keeps grains for sale in the way of business. What else is his 
business anyway?] . . . imprisonment for a term of not less than 
ten years, combined with the most severe forced labor and con¬ 
fiscation of all their property.” 

From that summer on, the countryside, which had already 
been strained to the utmost limits, gave up its harvest year after 
year without compensation. This led to peasant revolts and, in 
the upshot, suppression of the revolts and new arrests.^^ It was 
in 1920 that we knew (or failed to know) of the trial of the 
“Siberian Peasants’ Union.” And at the end of 1920 the repres¬ 
sion of the Tambov peasants’ rebellion began. There was no 
trial for them. 

But the main drive to uproot people from the Tambov villages 
took place mostly in June, 1921. Throughout the province con¬ 
centration camps were set up for the families of peasants who 
had taken part in the revolts. Tracts of open field were enclosed 
with barbed wire strung on posts, and for three weeks every 
family of a suspected rebel was confined there. If within that 
time the man of the family did not turn up to buy his family’s 
way out with his own head, they sent the family into exile.^® 

Even earlier, in March, 1921, the rebellious Kronstadt sailors, 

14. “The hardest-working sector of the nation was positively uprooted.” 
Korolenko, letter to Gorky, August 10, 1921. 

15. Tukhachevsky, “Borba s Kontrrevolyutsionnymi Vostaniyami” (“The 
Struggle Against Counterrevolutionary Revolts”), in Voina i Revolyutsiya {War 
and Revolution)y 1926, No. 7/8. 


minus those who had been shot, were sent to the islands of the 
Archipelago via the Trubetskoi bastion of the Peter and Paul 

That same year, 1921, began with Cheka Order No. 10, dated 
January 8: “To intensify the repression of the bourgeoisie.” Now, 
when the Civil War had ended, repression was not to be reduced but 
intensified! Voloshin has pictured for us in several of his poems how 
this worked out in the Crimea. 

In the summer of 1921, the State Commission for F amin e Relief, 
including Kuskova, Prokopovich, Kishkin, and others, was arrested. 
They had tried to combat the unprecedented famine in Russia. The 
heart of the matter, however, was that theirs were the wrong hands to 
be offering food and could not be allowed to feed the starving. The 
chairman of this commission, the dying Korolenko, who was pardoned, 
called the destruction of the commission “the worst of dirty political 
tricks, a dirty political trick by the government.”^® 

In that same year the practice of arresting students began (for 
example, the group of Yevgeniya Doyarenko in the Timiryazev 
Academy) for “criticism of the system” (not in public, merely 
in conversation among themselves). Such cases, however, were 
evidently few, because the group in question was interrogated 
by Menzhinsky and Yagoda personally. 

Also in 1921 the arrests of members of all non-Bolshevik 
parties were expanded and systematized. In fact, all Russia’s 
political parties had been buried, except the victorious one. (Oh, 
do not dig a grave for someone else!) And so that the dissolution 
of these parties would be irreversible, it was necessary that their 
members should disintegrate and their physical bodies too. 

Not one citizen of the former Russian state who had ever 
joined a party other than the Bolshevik Party could avoid his 
fate. He was condemned unless, like Maisky or Vyshinsky, he 
succeeded in making his way across the planks of the wreck to 
the Bolsheviks. He might not be arrested in the first group. He 
might live on, depending on how dangerous he was believed to 
be, until 1922, 1932, or even 1937, but the lists were kept; his 

16. Korolenko’s letter to Gorky, September 14, 1921. Korolenko also reminds 
us of a particularly important situation in the prisons of 1921: “Everywhere 
they are saturated with typhus.” This has been confirmed by Skripnikova and 
others imprisoned at the time. 

The History of Our Sewage Disposal System \ 35 

turn would and did come; he was arrested or else politely invited 
to an interrogation, where he was asked just one question: Had 
he been a member of such and such, from then till then? (There 
were also questions about hostile activity, but the first question 
decided everything, as is clear to us now, decades later.) From 
there on his fate might vary. Some were put immediately in one 
of the famous Tsarist central prisons—^fortunately, all the 
Tsarist central prisons had been well preserved—and some 
socialists even ended up in the very same cells and with the very 
same jailers they had had before. Others were offered the oppor¬ 
tunity of going into exile—oh, not for long, just for two or 
three years. And some had it even easier: they were merely given 
a minus (a certain number of cities were forbidden) and told 
to pick out a new place of residence themselves, and for the 
future would they please be so kind as to stay fixed in that one 
place and await the pleasure of the GPU. 

This whole operation was stretched out over many years be¬ 
cause it was of primary importance that it be stealthy and un¬ 
noticed. It was essential to clean out, conscientiously, socialists 
of every other stripe from Moscow, Petrograd, the ports, the 
industrial centers, and, later on, the outlying provinces as well. 
This was a grandiose silent game of solitaire, whose rules were 
totally incomprehensible to its contemporaries, and whose out¬ 
lines we can appreciate only now. Someone’s far-seeing mind, 
someone’s neat hands, planned it all, without letting one wasted 
minute go by. They picked up a card which had spent three 
years in one pile and softly placed it on another pile. And the 
person who had been imprisoned in a central prison was thereby 
shifted into exile—and a good way off. Someone who had served 
out a “minus” sentence was sent into exile, too, but out of sight 
of the rest of the “minus” category, or else from exile to exile, 
and then back again into the central prison—^but this time a 
different one. Patience, overwhelming patience, was the trait of 
the person playing out the solitaire. And without any noise, 
without any outcry, the members of all the other parties slipped 
gradually out of sight, lost all connection with the places and 
people where they and their revolutionary activities were known, 
and thus—^imperceptibly and mercilessly—^was prepared the 
annihilation of those who had once raged against tyranny at 


Student meetings and had clanked their Tsarist shackles in 

In this game of the Big Solitaire, the majority of the old 
political prisoners, survivors of hard labor, were destroyed, for 
it was primarily the SR’s and the Anarchists—not the Social 
Democrats—^who had received the harshest sentences from the 
Tsarist courts. They in particular had made up the population of 
the Tsarist hard-labor political prisons. 

There was justice in the priorities of destruction, however; in 
1920 they were all offered the chance to renounce in writing 
their parties and party ideologies. Some declined—and they, 
naturally, came up first for annihilation. Others signed such re¬ 
nunciations, and thereby added a few years to their lifetimes. But 
their turn, too, came implacably, and their heads rolled implac¬ 
ably from their shoulders.^® 

In the spring of 1922 the Extraordinary Commission for 
Struggle Against Counterrevolution, Sabotage, and Speculation, 
the Cheka, recently renamed the GPU, decided to intervene in 
church affairs. It was called on to carry out a “church revolu¬ 
tion”—^to remove the existing leadership and replace it with one 
which would have only one ear turned to heaven and the other 
to the Lubyanka. The so-called “Living Church” people seemed 
to go along with this plan, but without outside help they could 
not gain control of the church apparatus. For this reason, the 
Patriarch Tikhon was arrested and two resounding trials were 
held, followed by the execution in Moscow of those who had 
publicized the Patriarch’s appeal and, in Petrograd, of the Metro¬ 
politan Veniamin, who had attempted to hinder the transfer of 
ecclesiastical power to the “Living Church” group. Here and 
there in the provincial centers and even further down in the 

17. V. G. Korolenko wrote to Gorky, June 29, 1921: “History will someday 
note that the Bolshevik Revolution used the same means to deal with true 
revolutionaries and socalists as did the Tsarist regime, in other words, purely 
police measures.” 

18. Sometimes, reading a newspaper article, one is astonished to the point 
of disbelief. In Izvestiya oi May 24, 1959, one could read that a year after 
Hitler came to power Maximilian Hauke was arrested for belonging to none 
other than the Communist Party. Was he destroyed? No, they sentenced him 
to two years. After this was he, naturally, sentenced to a second term? No, 
he was released. You can interpret that as you please! He proceeded to live 
quietly and build an underground organization, in connection with which the 
Izvestiya article on his courage appeared.. 

The History of Our Sewage Disposal System | 37 

administrative districts, metropolitans and bishops were arrested, 
and, as always, in the wake of the big fish, followed shoals of 
smaller fry: archpriests, monks, and deacons. These arrests were 
not even reported in the press. They also arrested those who 
refused to swear to support the “Living Church” “renewal” 

Men of religion were an inevitable part of every annual 
“catch,” and their silver locks gleamed in every cell and in every 
prisoner transport en route to the Solovetsky Islands. 

From the early twenties on, arrests were also made among 
groups of theosophists, mystics, spiritualists. (Count Palen’s 
group used to keep official transcripts of its communications with 
the spirit world.) Also, religious societies and philosophers of the 
Berdyayev circle. The so-called “Eastern Catholics”—followers 
of Vladimir Solovyev—^were arrested and destroyed in passing, 
as was the group of A. I. Abrikosova. And, of course, ordinary 
Roman Catholics—^Polish Catholic priests, etc.—^were arrested, 
too, as part of the normal course of events. 

However, the root destruction of religion in the country, which 
throughout the twenties and thirties was one of the most important 
goals of the GPU-NKVD, could be realized only by mass arrests 
of Orthodox believers. Monks and nuns, whose black habits had 
been a distinctive feature of Old Russian life, were intensively 
rounded up on every hand, placed under arrest, and sent into 
exile. They arrested and sentenced active laymen. The circles kept 
getting bigger, as they raked in ordinary believers as well, old 
people, and particularly women, who were the most stubborn be¬ 
lievers of aU and who, for many long years to come, would be 
called “nuns” in transit prisons and in camps. 

True, they were supposedly being arrested and tried not for 
their actual faith but for openly declaring their convictions and 
for bringing up their children in the same spirit. As Tanya Khod- 
kevich wrote: 

You can pray freely 

But just so God alone can hear. 

(She received a ten-year sentence for these verses.) A person 
convinced that he possessed spiritual truth was required to conceal 
it from his own children! In the twenties the religious education of 


children was classified as a political crime under Article 58-10 of 
the Code—in other words, counterrevolutionary propaganda! 
True, one was still permitted to renounce one’s religion at one’s 
trial: it didn’t often happen but it nonetheless did happen that 
the father would renounce his religion and remain at home to raise 
the children while the mother went to the Solovetsky Islands. 
(Throughout all those years women manifested great firmness in 
their faith.) All persons convicted of religious activity received 
tenners, the longest term then given. 

(In those years, particularly in 1927, in purging the big cities 
for the pure society that was coming into being, they sent pros¬ 
titutes to the Solovetsky Islands along with the “nuns.” Those 
lovers of a sinful earthly life were given t/ireg-year sentences imder 
a more lenient article of the Code. The conditions in prisoner 
transports, in transit prisons, and on the Solovetsky Islands were 
not of a sort to hinder them from plying their merry trade among 
the administrators and the convoy guards. And three years later 
they would return with laden suitcases to the places they had come 
from. Religious prisoners, however, were prohibited from ever 
returning to their children and their home areas.) 

As early as the early twenties, waves appeared that were purely 
national in character—at first not very large in proportion to the 
populations of their homelands, especially by Russian yardsticks: 
Mussavatists from Azerbaijan; Dashnaks from Armenia; Georg¬ 
ian Mensheviks; and Turkmenian Basmachi, who were resisting 
the establishment of Soviet power in Central Asia. (The first 
Central Asian soviets were Russian in makeup by an overwhelm¬ 
ing majority, and were therefore seen as outposts of Russian 
power.) In 1926 the Zionist society of “Hehalutz” was exiled in 
toto—^since it had failed to respond to the all-powerful upsurge of 

Among subsequent generations, a picture has evolved of the 
twenties as some kind of holiday of totally unlimited freedom. In 
this book we shall encounter people who viewed the twenties quite 
differently. The non-Party students at this time sought “autonomy 
for higher educational institutions,” the right of assembly, and the 
removal from the curriculum of excessive political indoctrination. 
Arrests were the answer. These were intensified during holidays— 
for example, on May 1,1924. In 1925, about one hundred Lenin- 

The History of Our Sewage Disposal System | 39 

grad students were sentenced to three years in political detention 
for reading the Sotsialistichesky Vestnik —the organ of the Men¬ 
sheviks abroad—and for studying Plekhanov. (In his youth Ple- 
khanov himself had gotten off far more lightly for speaking out 
against the government in front of Kazan Cathedral.) In 1925 
they had already begun to arrest the first (young) Trotskyites. 
(Two naive Red Army men, remembering the Russian tradition, 
began to collect funds for the arrested Trotskyites—and they, too, 
were put in political detention.) 

And, of course, it is obvious that the exploiting classes were not 
spared. Throughout the twenties the hunt continued for former 
officers who had managed to survive; “Whites” (those who had 
not already earned execution during the CivU War); “White- 
Reds,” who had fought on both sides; and “Tsarist Reds,” Tsarist 
officers who had gone over to the Red Army but had not served in 
it for the whole period or who had gaps in their army service 
records and no documents to account for them. They were truly 
put through the mill because instead of being sentenced immedi¬ 
ately they, too, were put through the solitaire game: endless ver¬ 
ifications, limitations on the kind of work they could do and on 
where they could live; they were taken into custody, released, 
taken into custody again. And only gradually did they proceed 
to the camps, from which they did not return. 

However, sending these officers to the Archipelago did not end 
the problem but only set it in motion. After all, their mothers, 
wives, and children were still at liberty. With the help of unerring 
social analysis it was easy to see what kind of mood they were in 
after the heads of their households had been arrested. And thus 
they simply compelled their own arrest too! And one more wave 
was set rolling. 

In the twenties there was an amnesty for Cossacks who had 
taken part in the Civil War. Many of them returned from the 
island of Lemnos to the Kuban, where they were given land. All 
of them were subsequently arrested. 

And, of course, all former state officials had gone into hiding 
and were likewise liable to be hunted down. They had hidden well 
and disguised themselves cleverly, making use of the fact that 
there was as yet no internal passport system nor any unified system 
of work-books in the Republic—and they managed to creep into 


Soviet institutions. In such cases, slips of the tongue, chance 
recognitions, and the denunciations of neighbors helped battle- 
intelligence—so to speak. (Sometimes sheer accident took a 
hand. Solely out of a love of order, a certain Mova kept at home 
a list of all former employees of the provincial judiciary. This was 
discovered by accident in 1925, and they were all arrested and 

And so the waves rolled on—^for “concealment of social origin” 
and for “former social origin.” This received the widest interpreta¬ 
tion. They arrested members of the nobility for their social origin. 
They arrested members of their families. Finally, unable to draw 
even simple distinctions, they arrested members of the "individual 
nobility” —i.e., anybody who had simply graduated from a uni¬ 
versity. And once they had been arrested, there was no way back. 
You can’t undo what has been done! The Sentinel of the Revolu¬ 
tion never makes a mistake! 

(No. There were a few ways back! The counterwaves were 
thin, sparse, but they did sometimes break through. The first is 
worthy of mention right herd. Among the wives and daughters of 
the nobility and the officers tliere were quite often women of out¬ 
standing personal qualities and attractive appearance. Some suc¬ 
ceeded in breaking through in a small reverse wave! They were the 
ones who remembered that life is given to us only once and that 
nothing is more precious to us than our own life. They offered 
their services to the Cheka-GPU as informers, as colleagues, in 
any capacity whatsoever—and those who were liked were ac¬ 
cepted. These were the most fertile of all informers! They helped 
the GPU a great deal, because “former” people trusted them. Here 
one can name the last Princess Vyazemskaya, a most prominent 
postrevolutionary informer [as was her son on the Solovetsky 
Islands]. And Konkordiya Nikolayevna losse was evidently a 
woman of brilliant qualities: her husband was an officer who had 
been shot in her presence, and she herself was exiled to the 
Solovetsky Islands. But she managed to beg her way out and to 
set up a salon near the Big Lubyanka which the important figures 
of that establishment loved to frequent. She was not arrested again 
until 1937, along with her Yagoda customers.) 

It is strange to recount, but as a result of an absurd tradition 
the Political Red Cross had been preserved from Old Russia. 

The History of Our Sewage Disposal System \ 41 

There were three branches: the Moscow branch (Y. Peshkova- 
Vinaver); the Kharkov (Sandormirskaya); and the Petrograd. 
The one in Moscow behaved itself and was not dissolved until 
1937. The one in Petrograd (the old Narodnik Shevtsov, the 
cripple Gartman, and Kocherovsky) adopted an intolerably im¬ 
pudent stance, mixed into political cases, tried to get support 
from such former inmates of the Schlusselburg Prison as Novorus- 
sky, who had been convicted in the same case as Lenin’s brother, 
Aleksandr Ulyanov, and helped not only socialists but also KR’s 
—Counter-Revolutionaries. In 1926 it was shut down and its 
leaders were sent into exile. 

The years go by, and everything that has not been freshly re¬ 
called to us is wiped from our memory. In the dim distance, we 
see the year 1927 as a careless, well-fed year of the still untrun¬ 
cated NEP. But in fact it was tense; it shuddered as newspaper 
headlines exploded; and it was considered at the time, and por¬ 
trayed to us then, as the threshold of a war for world revolution. 
The assassination of the Soviet ambassador in Warsaw, which 
filled whole columns of the papers that June, aroused Mayakovsky 
to dedicate four thunderous verses to the subject. 

But here’s bad luck for you: Poland offered an apology; Voi¬ 
kov’s lone assassin was arrested there—and so how and against 
whom was the poet’s appeal to be directed?^® 

With cohesion, 



and repression 

Wring the neck 

. of this gang run riot! 

Who was to be repressed? Whose neck should be wrung? It was 
then that the so-called Voikov draft began. As always happened 
when there were incidents of disturbance or tension, they arrested 
former people: Anarchists, SR’s, Mensheviks, and also the Intel- 

19. Evidently, the monarchist in question assassinated Voikov as an act of 
private vengeance: it is said that as Urals Provincial Commissar of Foodstuffs, 
in July, 1918, P. L. Voikov had directed the destruction of all traces of the 
shooting of the Tsar’s family (the dissection and dismemberment of the corpses, 
the cremation of the remains, and the dispersal of the ashes). 


ligentsia as such. Indeed, who else was there to arrest in the cities? 
Not the working class! 

But the old “close-to-the-Cadets” intelligentsia had already 
been thoroughly shaken up, starting in 1919. Had the time not 
come to shake up that part of the intelligentsia which imagined 
itself to be progressive? To give the students a once-over? Once 
again Mayakovsky came to the rescue: 


about the Komsomol 

for days and for weeks! 

Look over 

your ranks, 

watch them with care. 

Are all of them 



Or are they 


pretending to be? 

A convenient world outlook gives rise to a convenient juridical 
term: social prophylaxis. It was introduced and accepted, and it 
was immediately understood by aU. (Lazar Kogan, one of the 
bosses of the White Sea Canal construction, would, in fact, soon 
say: “I believe that you personally were not guilty of anything. 
But, as an educated person, you have to understand that social 
prophylaxis was being widely applied!”) And when else, in fact, 
should unreliable fellow travelers, all that shaky intellectual rot, 
be arrested, if not on the eve of the war for world revolution? 
When the big war actually began, it would be too late. 

And so in Moscow they began a systematic search, block by 
block. Someone had to be arrested everywhere. The slogan was: 
“We are going to bang our fist on the table so hard that the world 
will shake with terror!” It was to the Lubyanka, to the Butyrki, 
that the Black Marias, the passenger cars, the enclosed trucks, the 
open hansom cabs kept moving, even by day. There was a jam at 
the gates, a jam in the courtyard. They didn’t have time to unload 
and register those they’d arrested. (And the same situation existed 

The History of Our Sewage Disposal System | 43 

in other cities. In Rostov-on-the-Don during those days the floor 
was so crowded in the cellar of House 33 that the newly arrived 
Boiko could hardly find a place to sit down.) 

A typical example from this wave; Several dozen young people 
got together for some kind of musical evening which had not been 
authorized ahead of time by the GPU. They listened to music and 
then drank tea. They got the money for the tea by voluntarily 
contributing their own kopecks. It was quite clear, of course, 
that this music was a cover for counterrevolutionary sentiments, 
and that the money was being collected not for tea but to assist 
the dying world bourgeoisie. And they were all arrested and given 
from three to ten years—Anna Skripnikova getting five, while 
Ivan Nikolayevich Varentsov and the other organizers of the 
affair who refused to confess were shot! 

And in that same year, somewhere in Paris, a group of Russian 
emigre Lycee graduates gathered to celebrate the traditional 
Pushkin hoUday. A report of this was published in the papers. It 
was clearly an intrigue on the part of mortally wounded imperial¬ 
ism, and as a result all Lycee graduates still left in the U.S.S.R. 
were arrested, as were the so-called “law students” (graduates of 
another such privileged special school of prerevolutionary Rus¬ 

Only the size of SLON—the Solovetsky Special Purpose 
Camp—^limited for the time being the scale of the Voikov draft. 
But the Gulag Archipelago had already begun its malignant life 
and would shortly metastasize throughout the whole body of the 

A new taste had been acquired and a new appetite began to 
grow. The time had long since arrived to crush the technical intel¬ 
ligentsia, which had come to regard itself as too irreplaceable and 
had not gotten used to catching instructions on the wing. 

In other words, we never did trust the engineers—and from 
the very first years of the Revolution we saw to it that those 
lackeys and servants of former capitalist bosses were kept in line 
by healthy suspicion and surveillance by the workers. However, 
during the reconstruction period, we did permit them to work in 
our industries, while the whole force of the class assault was 
directed against the rest of the intelligentsia. But the more our own 
economic leadership matured—^in VSNKh (the Supreme Council 


of the Economy) and Gosplan (the State Planning Commission) 
—the more the number of plans increased, and the more those 
plans overlapped and conflicted with one another, the clearer 
became the old engineers’ basic commitment to wrecking, their 
insincerity, slyness, venality. The Sentinel of the Revolution nar¬ 
rowed its eyes with even greater vigilance—and wherever it di¬ 
rected its narrowed gaze it immediately discovered a nest of 

This therapy continued full speed from 1927 on, and immedi¬ 
ately exposed to the proletariat all the causes of our economic 
failures and shortages. There was wrecking in the People’s Com¬ 
missariat of Railroads—^that was why it was hard to get aboard a 
train, why there were interruptions in supplies. There was wreck¬ 
ing in the Moscow Electric Power System—and interruptions in 
power. There was wrecking in the oil industry—hence the short¬ 
age of kerosene. There was wrecking in textiles—hence nothing 
for a workingman to wear. In the coal industry there was colossal 
wrecking—Whence no heat! In the metallurgy, defense, machinery, 
shipbuilding, chemical, mining, gold and platinum industries, in 
irrigation, everywhere there were these pus-filled boils of wreck¬ 
ing! Enemies with slide rules were on all sides. The GPU puffed 
and panted in its efforts to grab off and drag off the “wreckers.” 
In the capitals and in the provinces, GPU collegiums and prole¬ 
tarian courts kept hard at work, sifting through this viscous 
sewage, and every day the workers gasped to learn (and some¬ 
times they didn’t learn) from the papers of new vile deeds. They 
learned about Palchinsky, von Meek, and Velichko,^® and how 
many others who were nameless. Every industry, every factory, 
and every handicraft artel had to find wreckers in its ranks, and 
no sooner had they begun to look than they found them (with the 
help of the GPU). If any prerevolutionary engineer was not yet 
exposed as a traitor, then he could certainly be suspected of being 

And what accomplished villains these old engineers were! What 
diabolical ways to sabotage they found! Nikolai Karlovich von 
Meek, of the People’s Commissariat of Railroads, pretended to 

20. A. F. Velichko, a military engineer, former professor of the Military 
Academy of the General Staff, and a lieutenant general, had been in charge of 
the Administration for Military Transport in the Tsarist War Ministry. He 
was shot. Oh, how useful he would have been in 1941! 

The History of Our Sewage Disposal System \ 45 

be terribly devoted to the development of the new economy, and 
would hold forth for hours on end about the economic problems 
involved in the construction of socialism, and he loved to give 
advice. One such pernicious piece of advice was to increase the 
size of freight trains and not worry about heavier than average 
loads. The GPU exposed von Meek, and he was shot: his ob¬ 
jective had been to wear out rails and roadbeds, freight cars and 
locomotives, so as to leave the Republic without railroads in case 
of foreign military intervention! When, not long afterward, the 
new People’s Commissar of Railroads, Comrade Kaganovich, 
ordered that average loads should be increased, and even doubled 
and tripled them (and for this discovery received the Order of 
Lenin along with others of our leaders)—the malicious engineers 
who protested became known as limiters. They raised the 
outcry that this was too much, and would result in the breakdown 
of the rolling stock, and they were rightly shot for their lack of 
faith in the possibilities of socialist transport. 

These limiters were pursued for several years. In all branches 
of the economy they brandished their formulas and calculations 
and refused to understand that bridges and lathes could respond to 
the enthusiasm of the personnel. (These were the years when all 
the norms of folk psychology were turned inside out: the circum¬ 
spect folk wisdom expressed in such a proverb as “Haste makes 
waste” was ridiculed, and the ancient saying that “The slower you 
go, the farther you’ll get” was turned inside out.) The only thing 
which at times delayed the arrest of the old engineers was the 
absence of a, new batch to take their place. Nikolai Ivanovich 
Ladyzhensky, chief engineer of defense plants in Izhevsk, was first 
arrested for “limitation theories” and “blind faith in safety factors” 
(which explained why he considered inadequate the funds al¬ 
located by Ordzhonikidze for factory expansion).®^ Then they 
put him under house arrest and ordered him back to work in his 
old job. Without him the work was collapsing. He put it back in 
shape. But the funds allocated were just as inadequate as they had 
been earlier, and so once again he was thrown in prison, this time 
for “incorrect use of funds”: the funds were insufficient, they 

21. They say that when Ordzhonikidze used to talk with the old engineers, 
he would put one pistol on his desk beside his right hand and another beside 
his left. 


charged, because the chief engineer had used them inefficiently! 
Ladyzhensky died in camp after a year of timbering. 

Thus in the course of a few years they broke the back of the 
Old Russian engineers who had constituted the glory of the 
country, who were the beloved heroes of such writers as Garin- 
Mikhailovsky, Chekhov, and Zamyatin. 

It is to be understood, of course, that in this wave, as in all of 
them, other people were taken too; for example, those who had 
been near and dear to and connected with those doomed. I hesi¬ 
tate to sully the shining bronze countenance of the Sentinel of the 
Revolution, yet I must: they also arrested persons who refused to 
become informers. We would ask the reader to keep in mind at all 
times, but especially in connection with the first postrevolutionary 
decade, this entirely secret wave, which never surfaced in public: 
at that time people still had their pride, and many of them quite 
failed to comprehend that morality is a relative thing, having only 
a narrow class meaning, and they dared to reject the employment 
offered them, and they were all punished without mercy. In fact, 
at this time young Magdalena Edzhubova was supposed to act as 
an informer on a group of engineers, and she not only dared to 
refuse but also told her guardian (it was against him she was sup¬ 
posed to inform). However, he was arrested soon anyway, and in 
the course of the investigation he confessed everything. Edzhu¬ 
bova, who was pregnant, was arrested for “reveling an opera¬ 
tional secret” and was sentenced to be shot—^but subsequently 
managed to get off with a twenty-five-year string of sentences. In 
that same year, 1927, though in a completely different milieu, 
among the leading Kharkov Communists, Nadezhda Vitalyevna 
Surovets refused to become an informer and spy on members of 
the Ukrainian government. For this she was arrested by the GPU, 
and not until a quarter of a century later did she manage to' 
emerge, barely alive, in the Kolyma. As for those who didn’t sur¬ 
vive—of them we know nothing. 

(In the thirties this wave of the disobedient fell off to zero: 
if they asked you to, then it meant you had to inform—^where 
would you hide? “The weakest go to the wall.” “If I don’t, some¬ 
one else will.” “Better me than someone bad.” Meanwhile there 
were plenty of volunteers; you couldn’t get away from them; it 
was both profitable and praiseworthy.) 

The History of Our Sewage Disposal System | 47 

In 1928 in Moscow the big Shakhty case came to trial—big in 
terms of the publicity it was given, in the startling confessions 
and self-flagellation of the defendants (though not yet all of 
them). Two years later, in September, 1930, the famine organ¬ 
izers were tried with a great hue and cry. (They were the ones! 
There they are!) There were forty-eight wreckers in the food 
industry. At the end of 1930, the trial of the Promparty was put 
on with even greater fanfare. It had been faultlessly rehearsed. 
In this case every single defendant took upon himself the blame 
for every kind of filthy rubbish—and then, like a monument un¬ 
veiled, there arose before the eyes of the workers the grandiose, 
cunningly contrived skein in which all the separate wrecking cases 
previously exposed were tied into one diabolical knot along with 
Milyukov, Ryabushinsky, Deterding, and Poincare. 

As we begin to understand our judicial practices, we realize 
now that the public trials were only the surface indications of the 
mole’s tvmnel, and that all the main digging lay beneath the sur¬ 
face. At these trials only a small number of those arrested were 
produced in court—only those who agreed to the unnatural prac¬ 
tice of accusing themselves and others in the hope of getting off 
more easily. The majority of the engineers, who had the courage 
and intelligence to reject and refute the interrogators’ stupidities, 
were tried out of earshot. But even though they did not confess, 
they got the same tenners from the Collegium of the GPU. 

The waves flowed underground through the pipes; they pro¬ 
vided sewage disposal for the life flowering on the surface. 

It was precisely at this moment that an important step was 
taken toward universal participation in sewage disposal, universal 
distribution of responsibility for it. Those who had not yet been 
swept bodily down the sewer hatches, who had not yet been 
carried through the pipes to the Archipelago, had to march up 
above, carrying banners praising the trials, and rejoicing at the 
judicial reprisals. (And this was very farsighted! Decades would 
pass, and history would have its eyes opened, but the interroga¬ 
tors, judges, and prosecutors would turn out to be no more guilty 
than you and I, fellow citizens! The reason we possess our worthy 
gray heads is that in our time we worthily voted “for.”) 

Stalin carried out the first such effort in connection with the 


trial of the famine organizers —and how could it not succeed when 
everyone was starving in bounteous Russia, and everyone was 
always looking about and asking: “Where did all our dear bread 
get to?” Therefore, before the court verdict, the workers and 
employees wrathfully voted for the death penalty for the scoun¬ 
drels on trial. And by the time of the Promparty trial, there were 
universal meetings and demonstrations (including even school- 
children). It was the newspaper march of millions, and the roar 
rose outside the windows of the courtroom: “Death! Death! 

At this turning point in our history, there were some lonely 
voices of protest or abstention—and very, very great bravery was 
required to say “No!” in the midst of that roaring chorus of ap¬ 
proval. It is incomparably easier today! (Yet even today people 
don’t very often vote “against”) To the extent that we know about 
them, it was those same spineless, slushy intellectuals. At the 
meeting of the Leningrad Polytechnic Institute, Professor Dmitri 
Apollinaryevich Rozhansky abstained (he was an enemy of cap¬ 
ital punishment in general, you see; in the language of science, 
you see, this was an irreversible process), and he was arrested 
then and there! The student Dima Olitsky abstained and was ar¬ 
rested then and there! Thus all these protests were silenced at the 
very source. 

So far as we know, the gray-mustached working class approved 
these executions. So far as we know, from the blazing Komsomols 
right up to the Party leaders and the legendary army commanders, 
the entire vanguard waxed unanimous in approving these execu¬ 
tions. Famous revolutionaries, theoreticians, and prophets, seven 
years before their own inglorious destruction, welcomed the roar 
of the crowd, not guessing then that their own time stood on the 
threshold, that soon their own names would be dragged down in 
that roar of “Scum!” “Filth!” 

In fact, for the engineers the rout soon came to an end. At the 
beginning of 1931 Iosif Vissarionovich spake his “Six Condi¬ 
tions” for construction. And His Autocracy vouchsafed as the fifth 
condition: We must move from a policy of destruction of the old 
technical intelligentsia to a policy of concern for it, of making 
use of it. 

Concern for it! What had happened in the meantime to our just 

The History of Our Sewage Disposal System \ 49 

wrath? Where had all our terrible accusations gone to? At this 
very moment, as it happened, a trial of “wreckers” in the porcelain 
industry was under way (they had been playing their filthy tricks 
even there!). All the defendants had damned each other in unison 
and confessed to everything—^and suddenly they cried out in 
unison again: “We are innocent!” And they were freed! 

(There was even a small reverse wave to be remarked in this 
particular year: some engineers who had already been sentenced 
or put under interrogation were released. Thus D. A. Rozhansky 
came back. Should we not say he had won his duel with Stalin? 
And that if people had been heroic in exercising their civil re¬ 
sponsibilities, there would never have been any reason to write 
either this chapter or this whole book?) 

That same year Stalin was still engaged in grinding beneath his 
hoof the long-since prostrate Mensheviks. (There was a public 
trial in March, 1931, of the “All-Union Bureau of Mensheviks,” 
Groman, Sukhanov,and Yakubovich, and a certain number of 
small, scattered, unannounced arrests took place in addition.) 

And suddenly Stalin “reconsidered.” 

The White Sea folk say of the tide, the water reconsiders, 
meaning the moment just before it begins to fall. Well, of course, 
it is inappropriate to compare the murky soul of Stalin with the 
water of the White Sea. And perhaps he didn’t reconsider any¬ 
thing whatever. Nor was there any ebb tide. But one more miracle 
happened that year. In 1931, following the trial of the Prom- 
party, a grandiose trial of the Working Peasants Party was being 
prepared—on the grounds that they existed (never, in actual 
fact!) as an enormous organized underground force among the 
rural intelligentsia, including leaders of consumer and agricultural 
cooperatives and the more advanced upper layer of the peas¬ 
antry, and supposedly were preparing to overthrow the dictator¬ 
ship of the proletariat. At the trial of the Promparty this Working 
Peasants Party—the TKP—^was referred to as if it were already 
well known and under detention. The interrogation apparatus of 

22. The Sukhanov referred to here was the same Sukhanov in whose apart¬ 
ment, on the Karpovka, in Petrograd, and with whose knowledge (and the 
guides there nowadays are lying when they say it was without his knowledge), 
5ie Bolshevik Centrd Committee met on October 10, 1917, and adopted its 
decision to launch an armed uprising. 


the GPU was working flawlessly: thousands of defendants had al¬ 
ready fully confessed their adherence to the TKP and participa¬ 
tion in its criminal plans. And no less than two hundred thousand 
“members” altogetW were promised by the GPU. Mentioned as 
“heading” the party were the agricultural economist Aleksandr 
Vasilyevich Chayanov; the future “Prime Minister” N. D. Kon¬ 
dratyev; L. N. Yurovsky; Makarov; and Aleksei Doyarenko, a 
professor from the Timiryazev Academy (future Minister of 

Then all of a sudden, one lovely night, Stalin reconsidered. 
Why? Maybe we will never know. Did he perhaps wish to save 
his soul? Too soon for that, it would seem. Did his sense of humor 
come to the fore—^was it aU so deadly, monotonous, so bitter¬ 
tasting? But no one would ever dare accuse Stalin of having a 
sense of humor! Likeliest of all, Stalin simply figured out that the 
whole countryside, not just 200,000 people, would soon die of 
famine anyway, so why go to the trouble? And instantly the 
whole TKP trial was c^^ oft. All those who had “confessed” 
were told they could repudiate their confessions (one can picture 
their happiness!). And instead of the whole big catch, o^y the 
small group of Kondratyev and Chayanov was hauled in and 
tried.*^ (In 1941, the charge against the tortured Vavilov was 
that the TKP had existed and he had been its head.) 

Paragraph piles on paragraph, year on year—and yet there is 
no way we can describe in sequence everything that took place 
(but the GPU did its job effectively! The GPU never let anything 
get by!). But we must always remember that: 

• Religious believers, of course, were being arrested uninter¬ 
ruptedly. (There were, nonetheless, certain special dates and peak 
periods. There was a “night of struggle against religion” in 
Leningrad on Christmas Eve, 1929, when they arrested a large 
part of the religious intelligentsia and held them—not just imtU 
morning either. And that was certainly no “Christmas tale.” 

23. He might well have been a better one than those who held the job for 
the next forty years! But how strange is human fate! As a matter of principle, 
Doyarenko was always nonpolitical! When his daughter used to bring home 
fellow students who expressed oj)inions savoring of Socialist Revolutionary 
views, he made them leave! 

24. Kondratyev, sentenced to solitary confinement, became mentally ill there 
and died. Yurovsky also died. Chayanov was exiled to Alma-Ata after five years 
in solitary and was arrested again there in 1948. 

The History oj Our Sewage Disposal System | 51 

Then in February, 1932, again in Leningrad, many churches 
were closed simultaneously, while, at the same time, large-scale 
arrests were made among the clergy. And there are still more 
dates and places, but they haven’t been reported to us by any¬ 

• Non-Orthodox sects were also under constant attack, even 
those sympathetic to Communism. (Thus, in 1929, they arrested 
every last member of the communes between Sochi and Khosta. 
These com m unes ran everything—both production and distribu¬ 
tion—on a Communist basis, and it was all done fairly and 
honestly, in a way the rest of the country won’t achieve in a hun¬ 
dred years. But, alas, they were too literate; they were well read 
in religious literature; and atheism was not their philosophy, 
which combined Baptist and Tolstoyan beliefs with those of Yoga. 
It appeared that such a commune was criminal and that it could 
not bring people happiness.) 

In the twenties, a large group of Tolstoyans was exiled to the 
foothills of the Altai and there they established communal settle¬ 
ments jointly with the Baptists. When the construction of the 
Kuznetsk industrial complex began, they supplied it with food 
products. Then arrests began—first the teachers (they were not 
teaching in accordance with the government programs), and 
the children ran after the cars, shouting. And after that the com¬ 
mune leaders were taken. 

• The Big Solitaire game played with the socialists went on and 
on uninterruptedly—of course. 

• In 1929, also, those historians who had not been sent abroad 
in time were arrested: Platonov, Tarle, Lyubavsky, Gotye, Li¬ 
khachev, Izmailov, and the outstanding literary scholar M. M. 

• From one end of the country to the other, nationalities kept 
pouring in. The Yakuts were imprisoned after the revolt of 1928. 
The Buryat-Mongols were imprisoned after the uprising of 1929 
—and they say about 35,000 were shot, a figure it has been im¬ 
possible to verify. The Kazakhs were imprisoned after Budenny’s 
cavalry heroically crushed their revolt in 1930 and 1931. The 
Union for Liberation of the Ukraine was put on trial at the be¬ 
ginning of 1930 (Professor Yefremov, Chekhovsky, Nikovsky, 
etc.), and, knowing the ratio in our country of what is public to 


what is secret, how many others followed in their footsteps? How 
many were secretly arrested? 

Then came the time—slowly, it is true, but surely—^when it 
was the turn of the members of the ruling Party to do time in 
prison! At first—from 1927 to 1929—it was a question of the 
“workers’ opposition,” in other words, the Trotsk)dtes, who had 
chosen themselves such an unsuccessful leader. They numbered, 
hundreds at the start; soon there would be thousands. But it’s 
the first step that’s the hardest! Just as these Trotskyites had 
observed with approval the arrest of members of other parties, so 
the rest of the Party now watched approvingly as the Trotskyites 
were arrested. But everyone would have his turn. The nonexistent 
“rightist opposition” would come later, and, limb by limb, be¬ 
ginning with its own tail, the ravenous maw would devour itself 
. . . right up to its head. 

From 1928 on, it was time to call to a reckoning those late 
stragglers after the bourgeoisie—^the NEPmen. The usual practice 
was to impose on them ever-increasing and finally totally intoler¬ 
able taxes. At a certain point they could no longer pay; they were 
immediately arrested for bankruptcy, and their property was con¬ 
fiscated. (Small tradesmen such as barbers, tailors, even those 
who repaired primus stoves, were only deprived of their licenses 
to ply their trade.) 

There was an economic purpose to the development of the 
NEPmen wave. The state needed property and gold, and there 
was as yet no Kolyma. The famous gold fever began at the end of 
1929, only the fever gripped not those looking for gold but those 
from whom it was being shaken loose. The particular feature of 
this new, “gold” wave was that the GPU was not actually accus¬ 
ing these rabbits of anything, and was perfectly willing not to 
send them oft to Gulag country, but wished only to take away 
their gold by main force. So the prisons were packed, the inter¬ 
rogators were worn to a frazzle, but the transit prisons, prisoner 
transports, and camps received only relatively minor reinforce¬ 

Who was arrested in the “gold” wave? All those who, at one 
time or another, fifteen years before, had had a private “business,” 
had been involved in retail trade, had earned wages at a craft, 
and could have, according to the GPU’s deductions, hoarded gold. 

The History of Our Sewage Disposal System \ 53 

But it so happened that they often had no gold. They had put 
their money into real estate or securities, which had melted away 
or been taken away in the Revolution, and nothing remained. 
They had high hopes, of course, in arresting dental technicians, 
jewelers, and watch repairmen. Through denunciations, one could 
leam about gold in the most unexpected places: a veteran lathe 
worker had somewhere gotten hold of, and held on to, sixty gold 
five-ruble pieces from Tsarist times. The famous Siberian partisan 
Muravyev had come to Odessa, bringing with him a small bag 
full of gold. The Petersburg Tatar draymen all had gold hidden 
away. Whether or not these things were so could be discovered 
only inside prison walls. Nothing—^neither proletarian origin nor 
revolutionary services—served as a defense against a gold de¬ 
nunciation. All were arrested, all were crammed into GPU cells 
in numbers no one had considered possible up to then—^but that 
was all to the good: they would cough it up all the sooner! It 
even reached a point of such confusion that men and women were 
imprisoned in the same cells and used the latrine bucket in each 
other’s presence—^who cared about those niceties? Give up your 
gold, vipers! The interrogators did not write up charge sheets be¬ 
cause no one needed their papers. And whether or not a sentence 
would be pasted on was of very little interest. Only one thing 
was important: Give up your gold, viper! The state needs gold 
and you don’t. The interrogators had neither voice nor strength 
left to threaten and torture; they had one universal method: feed 
the prisoners nothing but salty food and give them no water. 
Whoever coughed up gold got water! One gold piece for a cup 
of fresh water! 

People perish for cold metal. 

This wave was distinguished from those that preceded and 
followed it because, even though fewer than half its victims held 
their fate in their own hands, some did. If you in fact had no 
gold, then your situation was hopeless. You would be beaten, 
burned, tortured, and steamed to Ae point of death or untU they 
finally came to believe you. But if you had gold, you could deter¬ 
mine the extent of your torture, the limits of your endurance, 
and your own fate. Psychologically, this situation was, inciden¬ 
tally, not easier but more difiicult, because if you made an error 


you would always be ridden by a guilty conscience. Of course, 
anyone who had already mastered the rules of the institution 
would yield and give up his gold—that was easier. But it was a 
mistake to give it up too readily. They would refuse to believe 
you had coughed it aU up, and they would continue to hold you. 
But you’d be wrong, too, to wait too long before yielding; you’d 
end up kicking the bucket or they’d paste a term on you out of 
meanness. One of the Tatar draymen endured all the tortures: he 
had no gold! They imprisoned his wife, too, and tortured her, but 
the Tatar stuck to his story: no gold! Then they arrested his 
daughter: the Tatar couldn’t take it any more. He coughed up 
100,000 rubles. At this point they let his family go, but slapped 
a prison term on him. The crudest detective stories and operas 
about brigands were played out in real life on a vast national scale. 

The introduction of the passport system on the threshold of 
the thirties also provided the camps with a good-sized draft of 
reinforcements. Just as Peter I simplified the social structure, 
sweeping clean all the nooks and crannies of the old Russian 
class system, so our socialist passport system swept out, in 
particular, the betwixt-and-between insects. It hit at the clever, 
homeless portion of the population which wasn’t tied down to 
anything. In the early stages, people made many mistakes with 
those passports—and those not registered at their places of resi¬ 
dence, and those not registered as having left their former places of 
residence, were raked into the Archipelago, if only for a single 

And so the waves foamed and rolled. But over them all, in 
1929-1930, billowed and gushed the multimillion wave of dis¬ 
possessed kulaks. It was immeasurably large and it could cer¬ 
tainly not have been housed in even the highly developed net¬ 
work of Soviet interrogation prisons (which in any case were 
packed full by the “gold” wave). Instead, it bypassed the prisons, 
going directly to the transit prisons and camps, onto prisoner 
transports, into the Gulag country. In sheer size this nonrecurring 
tidal wave (it was an ocean) swelled beyond the bounds of any¬ 
thing the penal system of even an immense state can permit itself. 
There was nothing to be compared with it in all Russian history. 
It was the forced resettlement of a whole people, an ethnic 
catastrophe. But yet so cleverly were the channels of the GPU- 

The History of Our Sewage Disposal System | 55 

Gvilag organized that the cities would have noticed nothing had 
they not been stricken by a strange three-year famine—a famine 
that came about without drought and without war. 

This wave was also distinct from all those which preceded it 
because no one fussed about with taking the head of the family 
first and then working out what to do with the rest of the family. 
On the contrary, in this wave they burned out whole nests, whole 
families, from the start; and they watched jealously to be sure 
that none of the children—^fourteen, ten, even six years old— 
got away: to the last scrapings, all had to go down the same 
road, to the same common destruction. (This was the first such 
experiment—at least in modern history. It was subsequently re¬ 
peated by Hitler with the Jews, and again by Stalin with nation¬ 
alities which were disloyal to him or suspected by him.) 

This wave included only pathetically few of those kulaks for 
whom it was named, in order to draw the wool over people’s eyes. 
In Russian a kulak is a miserly, dishonest rural trader who grows 
rich not by his own labor but through someone else’s, through 
usury and operating as a middleman. In every locality even before 
the Revolution such kulaks could be numbered on one’s fingers. 
And the Revolution totally destroyed their basis of activity. Sub¬ 
sequently, after 1917, by a transfer of meaning, the name kulak 
began to be applied (in official and propaganda literature, whence 
it moved into general usage) to all those who in any way hired 
workers, even if it was only when they were temporarily short of 
working hands in their own families. But we must keep in mind 
that after the Revolution it was impossible to pay less than a fair 
wage for all such labor—^the Committees of the Poor and the vil¬ 
lage soviets looked after the interests of landless laborers. Just let 
somebody try to swindle a landless laborer! To this very day, in 
fact, the hiring of labor at a fair wage is permitted in the Soviet 

But the inflation of this scathing term kulak proceeded relent¬ 
lessly, and by 1930 all strong peasants in general were being so 
called—all peasants strong in management, strong in work, or 
even strong merely in convictions. The term kulak was used to 
smash the strength of the peasantry. Let us remember, let us open 
our eyes: only a dozen years had passed since the great Decree on 
the Land—that very decree without which the peasants would 


have refused to follow the Bolsheviks and without which the 
October Revolution would have failed. The land was allocated in 
accordance with the number of “mouths” per family, equally. It 
had been only nine years since the men of the peasantry had 
returned from the Red Army and rushed onto the land they had 
wrested for themselves. Then suddenly there were kulaks and 
there were poor peasants. How could that be? Sometimes it was 
the result of differences in initial stock and equipment; sometimes 
it may have resulted from luck in the mixture of the family. But 
wasn’t it most often a matter of hard work and persistence? And 
now these peasants, whose breadgrain had fed Russia in 1928, 
were hastily uprooted by local good-for-nothings and city people 
sent in from outside. Like raging beasts, abandoning every con¬ 
cept of “humanity,” abandoning all humane principles which had 
evolved through the millennia, they began to round up the very 
best farmers and their families, and to drive them, stripped of their 
possessions, naked, into the northern wastes, into the tundra and 
the taiga. 

Such a mass movement could not help but develop subsequent 
ramifications. It became necessary to rid the villages also of those 
peasants who had merely manifested an aversion to joining the 
collective farms, or an absence of inclination for the collective 
life, which they had never seen with their own eyes, about which 
they knew nothing, and which they suspected (we now know how 
well founded their suspicions were) would mean a life of forced 
labor and famine under the leadership of loafers. Then it was also 
necessary to get rid of those peasants, some of them not at all 
prosperous, who, because of their daring, their physical strength, 
their determination, their outspokenness at meetings, and their 
love of justice, were favorites with their fellow villagers and by 
virtue of their independence were therefore dangerous to the 
leadership of the collective farm.*® Beyond this, in every village 
there were people who in one way or another had personally got¬ 
ten in the way of the local activists. This was the perfect time to 
settle accounts with them of jealousy, envy, insult. A new word 
was needed for all these new victims as a class—and it was bom. 
By this time it had no “social” or “economic” content whatsoever, 
but it had a marvelous sound: podkulachnik—“a person aiding 

25. This kind of peasant and his fate were portrayed immortally in the 
character of Stepan Chansov in S. Zalygin’s novel. 

The History of Our Sewage Disposal System \ 57 

the kulaks.” In other words, I consider you an accomplice of the 
enemy. And that finishes you! The most tattered landless laborer 
in the countryside could quite easily be labeled a podkulachnik.^^ 

And so it was that these two terms embraced everything that 
constituted the essence of the village, its energy, its keenness of 
wit, its love of hard work, its resistance, and its conscience. They 
were torn up by the roots—^and collectivization was accom¬ 

But new waves rolled from the collectivized villages: one of 
them was a wave of agricultural wreckers. Everywhere they 
began to discover wrecker agronomists who up until that year 
had worked honestly all their lives but who now purposely sowed 
weeds in Russian fields (on the instructions, of course, of the 
Moscow institute, which had now been totally exposed; indeed, 
there were those same 200,000 unarrested members of the Work¬ 
ing Peasants Party, the TKPI). Certain agronomists failed to put 
into effect the profound instructions of Lysenko—and in one 
such wave, in 1931, Lorkh, the so-called “king” of the potato, 
was sent to Kazakhstan. Others carried out the Lysenko directives 
too precisely and thus exposed their absurdity. (In 1934 Pskov 
agronomists sowed flax on the snow—exactly as Lysenko had 
ordered. The seeds swelled up, grew moldy, and died. The big 
fields lay empty for a year. Lysenko could not say that the snow 
was a kulak or that he himself was an ass. He accused the 
agronomists of being kulaks and of distorting his technology. 
And the agronomists went off to Siberia.) Beyond all this, in 
almost every Machine and Tractor Station wrecking in the 
repairing of tractors was discovered—and that is how the failures 
of the first collective farm years were explained! 

There was a wave “for harvest losses” (losses in comparison 
with the arbitrary harvest figures announced the preceding spring 
by the “Commission for Determination of the Harvest”). 

There was a wave “for failure to fulfill obligations undertaken 
for delivery to the state of breadgrains”—the District Party Com¬ 
mittee had undertaken the obligation, and the collective farm had 
not fulfilled it: go to prison! 

There was a wave for snipping ears, the nighttime snipping 
of individual ears of grain in the field—a totally new type of 

26. I remember very well that in our youth this term seemed quite logical; 
there was nothing in the least unclear about it. 


agricultural activity, a new type of harvesting! The wave of those 
caught doing this was not small—^it included many tens of 
thousands of peasants, many of them not even adults but boys, 
girls, and small children whose elders had sent them out at night 
to snip, because they had no hope of receiving anything from the 
collective farm for their daytime labor. For this bitter and not 
very productive occupation (an extreme of poverty to which the 
peasants had not been driven even in serfdom) the courts handed 
out a full measure: ten years for what ranked as an especially 
dangerous theft of socialist property under the notorious law of 
August 7, 1932—^which in prisoners’ lingo was known simply 
as the law of Seven-eighths. 

This law of “Seven-eighths” produced another big, separate 
wave from the construction projects of the First and Second 
Five-Year Plans, from transport, trade, and industry. Big thefts 
were turned over to the NKVD. This wave must further be kept 
in mind as one that kept on flowing steadily for the next fifteen 
years, until 1947, especially diuing the war years. (Then in 1947 
the original law was expanded and made more harsh.) 

Now at last we can catch our breath! Now at last all the mass 
waves are coming to an end! Comrade Molotov said on May 17, 
1933: “We do not see our task as being mass repressions.” 
Whew! At last! Begone, nighttime fears! But what’s that dog 
howling out there? Go get ’em. Go get ’em. 

And here we are! The Kirov wave from Leningrad has begun. 
While it lasted the tension was acknowledged to be so great that 
special staffs of the NKVD were set up in each and every Dis¬ 
trict Executive Committee of the city and an “accelerated” 
judicial procedure was introduced. (Even earlier, it had not been 
famous for being slow.) And there was no right of appeal. 
(There had been no appeal earlier.) It is also believed that one- 
quarter of Leningrad was purged —cleaned out —^in 1934—1935. 
Let this estimate be disproved by those who have the exact 
statistics and are willing to publish them. (To be sure, this wave 
took in much more than Leningrad alone. It had a substantial 
impact on the rest of the country in a form that was consistent 
though chaotic: the firing from the civil service of all those 
still left there whose fathers had been priests, all former noble¬ 
women, and all persons having relatives abroad.) 

Among such lashing waves as this, certain modest, changeless 

The History of Our Sewage Disposal System \ 59 

wavelets always got lost; they were little heard of, but they, too, 
kept flowing on and on: 

• There were Schutzbiindlers who had lost the class battles 
in Vienna and had come to the Fatherland of the world pro¬ 
letariat for refuge. 

• There were Esperantists—a harmful group which Stalin 
undertook to smoke out during the years when Hitler was 
doing the same thing. 

• There were the unliquidated remnants of the Free Philo¬ 
sophic Society—^illegal philosophical circles. 

• There were teachers who disagreed with the advanced 
laboratory-team system of instruction. (In 1933, for instance, 
Natalya Ivanovna Bugayenko was arrested by the Rostov GPU 
—^but in the third month of her interrogation, a government 
decree suddenly announced that the system was a faulty one. 
And she was let go.) 

• There were employees of the Political Red Cross, which, 
through the efforts of Yekaterina Peshkova, was still defending 
its existence. 

• There were mountain tribes of the North Caucasus who 
were arrested for their 1935 revolt. And non-Russian nationali¬ 
ties kept rolling in from one area, then another. (On the 
Volga Canal construction site newspapers were published in 
four national languages: Tatar, Turldsh, Uzbek, and Kazakh. 
And, of course, there were readers to read them!) 

• There were once again believers, who this time were 
unwilling to work on Sundays. (They had introduced the five- 
and the six-day week.) And there were collective farmers sent 
up for sabotage because they refused to work on religious feast 
days, as had been their custom in the era of individual farms. 

• And, always, there were those who refused to become 
NKVD informers. (Among them were priests who refused to 
violate the secrecy of the confessional, for the Organs had very 
quickly discovered how useful it was to learn the content of 
confessions—^the only use they found for religion.) 

• And members of non-Orthodox sects were arrested on an 
ever-wider scale. 

• And the Big Solitaire game with the socialists went on 
and on. 


And last of all there was a category I have not yet named, a 
wave that was continually flowing; Section 10, also known as KRA 
(Counter-Revolutionary Agitation) and also known as ASA 
(Anti-Soviet Agitation). The wave of Section 10 was perhaps 
the most constant of all. It never stopped, and whenever there 
was another big wave, as, for instance, in 1937, 1945, and 1949, 
its waters became particularly swollen.^^ 

Paradoxically enough, every act of the all-penetrating, eternally 
wakeful Organs, over a span of many years, was based solely on 
one article of the 140 articles of the nongeneral division of the 
Criminal Code of 1926. One can find more epithets in praise of 
this article than Turgenev once assembled to praise the Russian 
language, or Nekrasov to praise Mother Russia: great, powerful, 
abundant, highly ramified, multiform, wide-sweeping 58, which 
summed up the world not so much through the exact terms of its 
sections as in their extended dialectical interpretation. 

Who among ns has not experienced its all-encompassing em¬ 
brace? In all truth, there is no step, thought, action, or lack of 
action under the heavens which could not be punished by the 
heavy hand of Article 58. 

The article itself could not be worded in such broad terms, 
but it proved possible to interpret it this broadly. 

Article 58 was not in that division of the Code dealing with 
political crimes; and nowhere was it categorized as “political.” 
No. It was included, with crimes against public order and 
organized gangsterism, in a division of “crimes against the state.” 
Thus the Criminal Code starts off by refusing to recognize any¬ 
one under its jurisdiction as a political offender. All are simply 

Article 58 consisted of fourteen sections. 

In Section 1 we learn that any action (and, according to 

27. This particular unremitting wave grabbed up anyone at all at any 
moment. But when it came to outstanding intellectuals in the thirties, they 
sometimes considered it cleverer to fabricate a case based on some conspicu¬ 
ously shameful violation (like pederasty; or, in the case of Professor Pletnev, 
the allegation that, left alone with a woman patient, he bit her breast. A national 
newspaper reports such an incident—and just try to deny it!). 

The History of Our Sewage Disposal System \ 61 

Article 6 of the Criminal Code, any absence of action) directed 
toward the weakening of state power was considered to be 

Broadly interpreted, this turned out to include the refusal of 
a prisoner in camp to work when in a state of starvation and 
exhaustion. This was a weakening of state power. And it was 
punished by execution. (The execution of malingerers during 
the war.) 

From 1934 on, when we were given back the term Mother¬ 
land, subsections were inserted on treason to the Motherland — 
la, lb, Ic, Id. According to these subsections, all*actions directed 
against the military might of the U.S.S.R. were punishable by 
execution (lb), or by ten years’ imprisonment (la), but the 
lighter penalty was imposed only when mitigating circumstances 
were present and upon civilians only. 

Broadly interpreted: when our soldiers were sentenced to 
only ten years for allowing themselves to be taken prisoner 
(action injurious to Soviet military might), this was humani¬ 
tarian to the point of being illegal. According to the Stalinist 
code, they should all have been shot on their return home. 

(Here is another example of broad interpretation. I remem¬ 
ber well an encounter in the Butyrki in the summer of 1946. 
A certain Pole had been born in Lemberg when that city was 
part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Until World War H he 
lived in his native city, by then located in Poland; then he 
went to Austria, where he entered the service, and in 1945 he 
was arrested there by the Russians. Since by this time Austrian 
Lemberg had become Ukrainian Lvov, he received a tenner 
under Article 54-la of the Ukrainian Criminal Code: i.e., for 
treason to his motherland, the Ukraine! And at his interroga¬ 
tion the poor fellow couldn’t prove that treason to the Ukraine 
had not been his purpose when he went to Vienna! And that’s 
how he conned Ws way into becoming a traitor.) 

One important additional broadening of the section on 
treason was its application “via Article 19 of the Criminal 
Code”—“via intent.” In other words, no treason had taken 
place; but the interrogator envisioned an intention to betray— 
and that was enough to justify a full term, the same as for 
actual treason. True, Article 19 proposes that there be no 


penalty for intent, but only for preparation, but given a 
^alectical reading one can understand intention as prepara¬ 
tion. And “preparation is punished in the same way [i.e., with 
the same penalty] as the crime itself’ (Criminal Code). In 
general, “we draw no distinction between intention and the 
crime itself, and this is an instance of the superiority of Soviet 
legislation to bourgeois legislation.”^® 

Section 2 listed armed rebellion, seizure of power in the capital 
or in the provinces, especially for the purpose of severing any 
part of the U.S.S.R. through the use of force. For this the 
penalties ranged up to and included execution (as in every 
succeeding section). 

This was expanded to mean something which could not be 
explicitly stated in the article itself but which revolutionary 
sense of justice could be counted on to suggest: it applied to 
every attempt of any national republic to act upon its right to 
leave the U.S.S.R. After all, the word “force” is not defined 
in terms of whom it applies to. Even when the entire popula¬ 
tion of a republic wants to secede, if Moscow is opposed, the 
attempted secession will be forcible. Thus, all Estonian, 
Latvian, Lithuanian, Ukrainian, and Turkestan nationalists 
very easily received their tens and their twenty-fives under this 

Section 3 was “assisting in any way or by any means a foreign 
state at war with the U.S.S.R.” 

This section made it possible to condemn any citizen who 
had been in occupied territory—^whether he had nailed on the 
heel of a German soldier’s shoe or sold him a bunch of radishes. 
And it could be applied to any citizeness who had helped lift 
the fighting spirit of an enemy soldier by dancing and spending 
the night with him. Not everyone was actually sentenced under 
this section—^because of the huge numbers who had been in 
occupied territory. But everyone who had been in occupied 
territory could have been sentenced under it. 

Section 4 spoke about (fantastic!) aid to the international 

28. A. Y. Vyshinsky (editor), Ot Tyurem k Vospitatelnym Uchrezhdeniyam 
(From Prisons to Rehabilitative Institutions) , a collection of articles published 
by the Criminal Policy Institute, Moscow, Sovetskoye Zakonodatelstvo Pub¬ 
lishing House, 1934. 

The History of Our Sewage Disposal System \ 63 

To whom, one wonders, could this possibly refer? And yet, 
broadly interpreted, and with the help of a revolutionary con¬ 
science, it was easy to find categories: All 6niigr6s who had left 
the country before 1920, i.e., several years before the Code 
was even written, and whom our armies came upon in Europe 
a quarter-century later—^in 1944 and 1945—^received 58-4: 
ten years or execution. What could they have been doing 
abroad other than aiding the international bourgeoisie? (In 
the example of the young people’s musical society already 
cited, we have seen that the international bourgeoisie could 
also be aided from inside the U.S.S.R.) They were, in addition, 
aided by all SR’s, all Mensheviks (the section was drafted 
with them in mind), and, subsequently, by the engineers of the 
State Planning Commission and the Supreme Council of the 

Section 5 was inciting a foreign state to declare war against 
the U.S.S.R. 

A chance was missed to apply this section against Stalin 
and his diplomatic and military circle in 1940-1941. Their 
blindness and insanity led to just that. Who if not they drove 
Russia into shameful, unheard-of defeats, incomparably worse 
than the defeats of Tsarist Russia in 1904 or 1915? Defeats 
such as Russia had never known since the thirteenth century. 

Section 6 was espionage. 

This section was interpreted so broadly that if one were to 
count up all those sentenced under it one might conclude that 
during Stalin’s time our people supported life not by agriculture 
or industry, but only by espionage on behalf of foreigners, 
and by living on subsidies from foreign intelligence services. 
Espionage was very convenient in its simplicity, compre¬ 
hensible both to an undeveloped criminal and to a learned 
jurist, to a journalist and to public opinion.®® 

The breadth of interpretation of Section 6 lay further in 

29. And very likely spy mania was not merely the narrow-minded predilec¬ 
tion of Stalin alone. It was very useful for everyone who possessed any priv¬ 
ileges. It became the natural justification for increasingly widespread secrecy, 
the withholding of information, closed doors and security passes, fenced-oflf 
dachas and secret, restricted special shops. People had no way of penetrating 
the armor plate of spy mania and learning how the bureaucracy made its cozy 
arrangements, loafed, blundered, ate, and took its amusements. 


the fact that people were sentenced not only for actual 
espionage but also for: 

PSh—Suspicion of Espionage—or NSh—^Unproven Espionage 
—^for which they gave the whole works. 

And even SVPSh—Contacts Leading to (!) Suspicion of 

In other words, let us say that an acquaintance of an ac¬ 
quaintance of your wife had a dress made by the same seam¬ 
stress (who was, of course, an NKVD agent) used by the 
wife of a foreign diplomat. 

These 58-6 PSh’s and SVPSh’s were sticky sections. They re¬ 
quired the strict confinement and incessant supervision of those 
convicted (for, after all, an intelligence service might reach 
out its tentacles to its protege even in a camp); also, such 
prisoners could be moved only under convoy—armed escort. In 
general, all the lettered articles —^which were, in fact, not articles 
of the Code at all but frightening combinations of capital letters 
(and we shall encounter more of them in this chapter)—always 
contained a touch of the enigmatic, always remained incompre¬ 
hensible, and it wasn’t at all clear whether they were offshoots 
of Article 58 or independent and extremely dangerous. In many 
camps prisoners convicted under the provisions of these lettered 
articles were subjected to restrictions even more stringent than 
those of the ordinary 58’s. 

Section 7 applied to subversion of industry, transport, trade, 
and the circulation of money. 

In the thirties, extensive use was made of this section to 
catch masses of people—^under the simplified and widely under¬ 
stood catchword wrecking. In reality, everything enumerated 
under Section 7 was very obviously and plainly being sub¬ 
verted daily. So didn’t someone have to be guilty of it all? 
For centuries the people had built and created, always honor¬ 
ably, always honestly, even for serf-owners and nobles. Yet 
no one, from the days of Ryurik on, had ever heard of wreck¬ 
ing. But now, when for the first time all the wealth had come 
to belong to the people, hundreds of thousands of the best 
sons of the people inexplicably rushed off to wreck. (Section 7 
did not provide for wrecking in agriculture, but since it was 
impossible otherwise to explain rationally how and why the 
fields were choked with weeds, why harvests were falling off. 

The History of Our Sewage Disposal System \ 65 

why machines were breaking down, then dialectic sensitivity 
brought agriculture, too, under its sway.) 

Section 8 covered terror (not that terror from above for which 
the Soviet Criminal Code was supposed to “provide a founda¬ 
tion and basis in legality,”®® but terrorism from below). 

Terror was construed in a very broad sense, not simply a 
matter of putting bombs under governors’ carriages, but, for 
example, smashing in the face of a personal enemy if he was 
an activist in the Party, the Komsomol, or the police !—that 
was already terror. The murder of an activist, especially, was 
always treated more seriously than the murder of an ordinary 
person (as in the Code of Hammurabi in the eighteenth century 
B.c.). If a husband killed his wife’s lover, it was very fortunate 
for him if the victim turned out not to be a Party member; he 
would be sentenced under Article 136 as a common criminal, 
who was a “social ally” and didn’t require an armed escort. But 
if the lover turned out to have been a Party member, the 
husband became an enemy of the people, with a 58-8 sentence. 

An even more important extension of the concept was at¬ 
tained by interpreting Section 8 in terms of that same Article 
19, i.e., intent in the sense of preparation, to include not only 
a direct threat against an activist uttered near a beer hall 
(“Just you wait!”) but also the quick-tempered retort of a 
peasant woman at the market (“Oh, drop dead!”). Both 
qualified as TN—^Terrorist Intent—and provided a basis for 
applying the article in all its severity.®^ 

Section 9 concerned destruction or damage by explosion or 
arson (always with a counterrevolutionary purpose), for which 
the abbreviated term was “diversion”—in other words, sabotage. 

The expansion of this section was based on the fact that the 
counterrevolutionary purpose could be discerned by the inter¬ 
rogator, who knew best what was going on in the criminal’s 
mind. And every human error, failure, mistake at work or in 
the production process, remained unforgiven, and was there¬ 
fore considered to be a case of “diversion.” 

But there was no section in Article 58 which was interpreted 
as broadly and with so ardent a revolutionary conscience as 

30. Lenin, fifth edition, Vol. 45, (>. 190. 

31. This sounds like an exaggeration, a farce, but it was not I who invented 
that farce. I was in prison with these individuals. 


Section 10. Its definition was: “Propaganda or agitation, con¬ 
taining an appeal for the overthrow, subverting, or weakening 
of the Soviet power . . . and, equally, the dissemination or prep¬ 
aration or possession of literary materials of similar content.” 
For this section in peacetime a minimum penalty only was set 
(not any less! not too light!); no upper limit was set for the 
maximum penalty. 

Such was the fearlessness of the great Power when confronted 
by the word of a subject. 

The famous extensions of this famous section were as 
follows: The scope of “agitation containing an appeal” was 
enlarged to include a face-to-face conversation between friends 
or even between husband and wife, or a private letter. The 
word “appeal” could mean personal advice. And we say “could 
mean” because, in fact, it did. 

“Subverting and weakening” the government could include 
any idea which did not coincide with or rise to the level of 
intensity of the ideas expressed in the newspaper on any par¬ 
ticular day. After all, anything which does not strengthen must 
weaken: Indeed, an)rthing which does not completely fit in, 
coincide, subverts! 

And he who sings not with us today 
is against 



The term “preparation of literary materials” covered every 
letter, note, or private diary, even when only the origin^ 
document existed. 

Thus happily expanded, what thought was there, whether 
merely in the mind, spoken aloud, or jotted down, which was 
not covered by Section 10? 

Section 11 was a special one; it had no independent content of 
its own, but provided for an aggravating factor in any of the 
preceding ones: if the action was undertaken by an organization 
or if the criminal joined an'organization. 

In actual practice, the section was so broadened that no 
organization whatever was required. I myself experienced the 
subtle application of this section. Two of us had secretly ex- 

The History of Our Sewage Disposal System | 67 

changed thoughts— in other words we were the beginnings of 
an organization, in other words an organization! 

Section 12 concerned itself closely widi the conscience of our 
citizens: it dealt with the failure to make a denunciation of any 
action of the types listed. And the penalty for the mortal sin of 
failure to make a denunciation carried no maximum limit! 

This section was in itself such a fantastic extension of 
everything else that no further extension was needed. He knew 
and he did not tell became the equivalent of “He did it himself’! 
Section 13, presumably long since out of date, had to do with 
service in the Tsarist secret police—the Okhrana.^® (A subse¬ 
quent form of analogous service was, on the contrary, considered 

Section 14 stipulated the penalties for “conscious failure to 
carry out defined duties or intentionally careless execution of 
same.” In brief this was called “sabotage” or “economic counter¬ 
revolution”—and the penalties, of course, included execution. 

It was only the interrogator who, after consulting his revolu¬ 
tionary sense of justice, could separate what was intentional 
from what was unintentional. This section was applied to 
peasants who failed to come across with food deliveries. It 
was also applied to collective farmers who failed to work the 
required minimum number of “labor days”; to camp prisoners 
who failed to complete their work norms; and, in a peculiar 
ricochet, after the war it came to be applied to members of 
Russia’s organized underworld of thieves, the blatnye or blatari, 
for escaping from camp. In other words, by an extension, a 
thiefs flight from camp was interpreted as subversion of the 
camp system rather than as a dash to freedom. 

Such was the last rib of the fan of Article 58—a fan whose 
spread encompassed all human existence. 

Now that we have completed our review of this great Article 
of the Criminal Code, we are less likely to be astounded fiuther 
on. Wherever the law is, crime can be found. 

32. There are psychological bases for suspecting I. Stalin of having been 
liable under this section of Article 58 also. By no means all the documents relat¬ 
ing to this type of service survived February, 1917, to become matters of 
public knowledge. V. F. Dzhunkovsky a former Tsarist police director, who 
died in the Kolyma, declared that the hasty burning of police archives in the 
first days of the February Revolution was a joint effort on the part of certain 
self-interested revolutionaries. 



The damascene steel of Article 58, first tried out in 1927, right 
after it was forged, was wetted by all the waves of the following 
decade, and with whistle and slash was used to the full to deal 
telling blows in the law’s attack upon the people in 1937-1938. 

Here one has to make the point that the 1937 operation was 
not arbitrary or accidental, but well planned well ahead of time, 
and that in the first half of that year many Soviet prisons were 
re-equipped. Cots were taken out of the cells and continuous one- 
or two-storied board benches or bunks were built.®® Old prisoners 
claim to remember that the first blow allegedly took the form of 
mass arrests, striking virtually throughout the whole country 
on one single August night. (But, knowing our clumsiness, I don’t 
really believe this.) In that autumn, when people were trustingly 
expecting a big, nationwide amnesty on the twentieth anniversary 
of the October Revolution, Stalin, the prankster, added unheard- 
of fifteen- and twenty-year prison terms to the Criminal Code.®^ 

There is hardly any need to repeat here what has already been 
widely written, and will be written many times more, about 1937: 
that a crushing blow was dealt the upper ranks of the Party, the 
government, the military command, and the GPU-NKVD itself.®® 
There was hardly one province of the Soviet Union in which the 
first secretary of the Party Committee or the Chairman of the 
Provincial Executive Committee survived. Stalin picked more 
suitable people for his purposes. 

Olga Chavchavadze tells how it was in Tbilisi. In 1938 the 
Chairman of the City Executive Committee, his first deputy, de¬ 
partment chiefs, their assistants, all the chief accountants, all the 
chief economists were arrested. New ones were appointed in their 
places. Two months passed, and the arrests began again: the 

33. It was similarly not by chance that the “Big House” in Leningrad was 
finished in 1934, just in time for Kirov’s asassination. 

34. The twenty-five-year term was added for the thirtieth anniversary of the 
Revolution in 1947. 

35. These days, as we observe the Chinese Cultural Revolution at the same 
stage—in the seventeenth year after its final victory—we can begin to consider 
it very likely that there exists a fundamental law of historical development. 
And even Stalin himself begins to seem only a blind and perfunctory executive 

The History of Our Sewage Disposal System \ 69 

chairman, the deputy, all eleven department chiefs, all the chief 
accountants, all the chief economists. The only people left at 
liberty were ordinary accountants, stenographers, charwomen, 
and messengers. . . . 

In the arrest of rank-and-file members of the Party there was 
evidently a hidden theme not directly stated anywhere in the 
indictments and verdicts: that arrests should be carried out 
predominantly among Party members who had joined before 
1924. This was pursued with particular rigor in Leningrad, be¬ 
cause all of them there had signed the “platform” of the New 
Opposition. (And how could they have refused to sign? How 
could they have refused to “trust” their Leningrad Provincial 
Party Committee?) 

Here is one vignette from those years as it actually occurred. 
A district Party conference was under way in Moscow Province. 
It was presided over by a new secretary of the District Party 
Committee, replacing one recently arrested. At the conclusion 
of the conference, a tribute to Comrade Stalin was called for. 
Of course, everyone stood up (just as everyone had leaped to 
his feet during the conference at every mention of his name). 
The small haU echoed with “stormy applause, rising to an ova¬ 
tion.” For three minutes, four minutes, five minutes, the “stormy 
applause, rising to an ovation,” continued. But palms were getting 
sore and raised arms were already aching. And the older people 
were panting from exhaustion. It was becoming insufferably silly 
even to those who really adored Stalin. However, who would 
dare be the first to stop? The secretary of the District Party 
Committee could have done it. He was standing on the platform, 
and it was he who had just called for the ovation. But he was a 
newcomer. He had taken the place of a man who’d been arrested. 
He was afraid! After all, NKVD men were standing in the hall 
applauding and watching to see who quit first! And in that ob¬ 
scure, small hall, unknown to the Leader, the applause went on 
—six, seven, eight minutes! They were done for! Their goose 
was cooked! They couldn’t stop now till they collapsed with 
heart attacks! At the rear of the hall, which was crowded, they 
could of course cheat a bit, clap less frequently, less vigorously, 
not so eagerly—^but up there with the presidium where everyone 
could see them? The director of the local paper factory, an 


independent and strong-minded man, stood with the presidium. 
Aware of all the falsity and all the impossibility of the situation, 
he still kept on applauding! Nine minutes! Ten! In anguish he 
watched the secretary of the District Party Committee, but the 
latter dared not stop. Insanity! To the last man! With make- 
believe enthusiasm on their faces, looking at each other with 
faint hope, the district leaders were just going to go on and on 
applauding till they fell where they stood, till they were carried 
out of the hall on stretchers! And even then those who were left 
would not falter. . . . Then, after eleven minutes, the director of 
the paper factory assumed a businesslike expression and sat 
down in his seat. And, oh, a miracle took place! Where had the 
universal, uninhibited, indescribable enthusiasm gone? To a man, 
everyone else stopped dead and sat down. They had been saved! 
The squirrel had been smart enough to jump off his revolving 

That, however, was how they discovered who the independent 
people were. And that was how they went about eliminating 
them. That same night the factory director was arrested. They 
easily pasted ten years on him on the pretext of something quite 
different. But after he had signed Form 206, the final document 
of the interrogation, his interrogator reminded him: 

“Don’t ever be the first to stop applauding!”®* 

(And just what are we supposed to do? How are we supposed 
to stop?) 

Now that’s what Darwin’s natural selection is. And that’s also 
how to grind people down with stupidity. 

But today a new myth is being created. Every story of 1937 
that is printed, every reminiscence that is published, relates with¬ 
out exception the tragedy of the Communist leaders. They have 
kept on assuring us, and we have unwittingly fallen for it, that 
the history of 1937 and 1938 consisted chiefly of the arrests of 
the big Communists—and virtually no one else. But out of the 
millions arrested at that time, important Party and state officials 
could not possibly have represented more than 10 percent. Most 
of the relatives standing in fine with food parcels outside the 
Leningrad prisons were lower-class women, the sort who sold 

36. Told me by N. G-^ko. 

The History of Our Sewage Disposal System \ 71 

The composition of the hordes who were arrested in that 
powerful wave and lugged off, hMf-dead, to the Archipelago was 
of such fantastic diversity that anyone who wants to deduce the 
rationale for it scientifically will rack his brain a long time for 
the answer. (To the contemporaries of the purge it was still more 

The real law underlying the arrests of those years was the 
assignment of quotas, the norms set, the planned allocations. 
Every city, every district, every military unit was assigned a 
specific quota of arrests to be carried out by a stipulated time. 
From then on everything else depended on the ingenuity of the 
Security operations personnel. 

The former Chekist Aleksandr Kalganov recalls that a tele¬ 
gram arrived in Tashkent: “Send 200!” They had just finished 
one clean-out, and it seemed as if there was “no one else” to take. 
Well, true, they had just brought in about fifty more from the 
districts. And then they had an idea! They would reclassify as 
58’s all the nonpolitical offenders being held by the police. No 
sooner said than done. But despite that, they had still not filled the 
quota. At that precise moment the police reported that a gypsy 
band had impudently encamped on one of tiie city squares and 
asked what to do with them. Someone had another bright idea! 
They surrounded the encampment and raked in all the gypsy 
men from seventeen to sixty as 58’s! They had fulfilled the plan! 

This could happen another way as well: according to Chief of 
Police Zabolovsky, the Chekists of Ossetia were given a quota 
of five hundred to be shot in the Republic. They asked to have 
it increased, and they were permitted another 250. 

Telegrams transmitting instructions of this kind were sent via 
ordinary channels in a very rudimentary code. In Temryuk the 
woman telegrapher, in holy innocence, transmitted to the NKVD 
switchboard the message that 240 boxes of soap were to be 
shipped to Krasnodar the following day. In the morning she 
learned about a big wave of arrests and guessed the meaning of 
the message! She told her girl friend what kind of telegram it 
was—and was promptly arrested herself. 

(Was it indeed totally by chance that the code words for 
human beings were a box of soap? Or were they familiar with 


Of course, certain patterns could be discerned. 

Among those arrested were: 

Our own real spies abroad. (These were often the most dedi¬ 
cated Comintern workers and Chekists, and among them were 
many attractive women. They were called back to the Mother¬ 
land and arrested at the border. They were then confronted with 
their former Comintern chief, for example, Mirov-Korona, who 
confirmed that he himself had been working for one of the 
foreign intelligence services—^which meant that his subordinates 
were automatically guilty too. And the more dedicated they 
were, the worse it was for them.) 

Soviet employees of the Chinese Eastern Railroad, the 
KVZhD, were one and all arrested as Japanese spies, including 
their wives, children, and grandmothers. But we have to admit 
these arrests had already begun several years earlier. 

Koreans from the Far East were sent into exile in Kazakhstan 
—^the first experiment in mass arrests on the basis of race. 

Leningrad Estonians were all arrested on the strength of 
having Estonian family names and charged with being anti¬ 
communist Estonian spies. 

All Latvian Riflemen and all Latvian Chekists were arrested. 
Yes, indeed, those very Latvians who had been the midwives of 
the Revolution, who just a short while before had constituted 
the nucleus and the pride of the Cheka! And with them were 
taken even those Communists of bourgeois Latvia who had been 
exchanged in 1921—and been freed thereby from their dreadful 
Latvian prison terms of two and three years. (In Leningrad, the 
Latvian Department of the Herzen Institute, the House of Latvian 
Culture, the Estonian Club, the Latvian Technicum, and the 
Latvian and Estonian newspapers were all closed down.) 

In the midst of the general to-do, the Big Solitaire game was 
finally wound up. All those not yet taken were raked in. There 
was no longer any reason to keep it secret. The time had come 
to write “finis” to the whole game. So now the socialists were 
taken off to prison in whole “exiles” (for example, the Ufa “exile” 
and the Saratov “exile”), and they were all sentenced together 
and driven off in herds to the slaughterhouses of the Archipelago. 

Nowhere was it specifically prescribed that more members 
of the intelligentsia should be arrested than of other groups. But 

The History of Our Sewage Disposal System \ 73 

just as the intelligentsia had never been overlooked in previous 
waves, it was not neglected in this one. A student’s denunciation 
(and this combination of words, “student” and “denunciation,” 
had ceased to sound outlandish) that a certain lecturer in a higher 
educational institution kept citing Lenin and Marx frequently but 
Stalin not at all was all that was needed for the lecturer not to 
show up for lectures any more. And what if he cited no one? All 
Leningrad Orientalists of the middle and younger generation were 
arrested. The entire staff of the Institute of the North, except 
for its NKVD informers, was arrested. They even went after 
schoolteachers. In Sverdlovsk one case involved thirty secondary 
schoolteachers and the head of the Provincial Education De¬ 
partment, Perel.®^ One of the terrible accusations against them 
was that they had made arrangements to have a New Year’s tree 
in order to burn down the school. And the club fell with the 
regularity of a pendulum on the heads of the engineers—who by 
this time were no longer “bourgeois” but a whole Soviet genera¬ 
tion of engineers. 

Because of an irregularity in the geological strata two mine 
tunnels which mine surveyor Nikolai Merkuryevich Mikov had 
calculated would meet failed to do so. He got Article 58-7— 
twenty years. 

Six geologists (the Kotovich group) were sentenced to ten 
years under 58-7 “for intentionally concealing reserves of tin 
ore in underground sites in anticipation of the arrival of the 
Germans.” (In other words, they had failed to find the deposits.) 

On the heels of the main waves followed an additional, special 
wave—of wives and the so-called “ChS” (Members of Families). 
Among them were the wives of important Party leaders and also, 
in certain places, Leningrad, for example, the wives of all those 
who had been sentenced to “ten years without the right to cor¬ 
respond”—^in other words, those who were no longer among the 
living. The “ChS,” as a rule, all got eights —eight years. (Well, 

37. Five of them died before trial from tortures suffered during interrogation. 
Twenty-four died in camps. The thirtieth, Ivan Aristaulovich Punich, returned 
after his release and rehabilitation. (Had he died, we would have known 
nothing about the thirty, just as we know nothing about millions of others.) 
And the many “witnesses” who testified against them are still there in Sverd¬ 
lovsk today—^prospering, occupying responsible positions, or living on as 
special pensioners. Darwinian selection! 


that was still less than the dispossessed kulaks got and their 
children did not go to the Archipelago.) 

Piles of victims! Hills of victims! A frontal assault of the 
NKVD on the city: In one wave, for example, G. P. Matveyeva 
saw not only her husband but all three of her brothers arrested, 
and all in different cases. (Of the four, three never returned.) 

An electrician had a high-tension line break in his sector: 
58-7—^twenty years. 

A Perm worker, Novikov, was accused of planning to blow 
up a Kama River Bridge. 

In that same city of Perm, Yuzhakov was arrested during 
the day, and at night they came for his wife. They presented 
her wiA a list of names and demanded that she sign a confession 
that they had all met in her house at a Menshevik-SR meeting 
(of course, they had not). They promised in return to let her 
out to be with her three children. She signed, destroying all those 
listed, and, of course, she herself remained in prison. 

Nadezhda Yudenich was arrested because of her family name. 
True, they established, after nine months, that she was not related 
to the White general, and they let her out (a mere trifle: during 
that time her mother had died of worry). 

The film Lenin in October was shown in Staraya Russa. Some¬ 
one present noticed the phrase in the film, “Palchinsky must 
know!” Palchinsky was defending the Winter Palace. But we have 
a nurse working here named Palchinskaya! Arrest her! They did 
arrest her. And it turned out that she actually was his wife— 
who had hidden in the provinces following his execution. 

In 1930, as small boys, the three brothers Pavel, Ivan, and 
Stepan Borushko came to the Soviet Union from Poland to live 
with their parents. Now as young men they were arrested for 
PSh—Suspicion of Espionage—and got ten years. 

A streetcar motorwoman of Krasnodar was returning on foot 
late at night from the car depot; on the outskirts of the city, to 
her misfortune, she passed some people working to free a truck 
that had gotten stuck. It turned out to be full of corpses—^hands 
and legs stuck out from beneath the canvas. They wrote down 
her name and the next day she was arrested. The interrogator 
asked her what she had seen. She told him truthfully. (Darwinian 
selection!) Anti-Soviet Agitation—^ten years. 

A plumber turned off the loudspeaker in his room every time 

The History of Our Sewage Disposal System \ 75 

the endless letters to Stalin were being read.®® His next-door 
neighbor denounced him. (Where, oh where, is that neighbor 
today?) He got SOE—“Socially Dangerous Element”—eight 

A half-hterate stovemaker used to enjoy writing his name in 
his free time. This raised his self-esteem. There was no blank 
paper around, so he wrote on newspapers. His neighbors found his 
newspaper in the sack in the communal toilet, with pen-and-ink 
flourishes across the countenance of the Father and Teacher. 
Anti-Soviet Agitation—ten years. 

Stahn and those close to him loved their portraits and splashed 
them all over the newspapers and issued them in milUons of 
copies. The flies paid little heed to their sanctity, and it was a pity 
not to make use of the paper—and how many unfortunates got 
a term for that! 

Arrests rolled through the streets and apartment houses like 
an epidemic. Just as people transmit an epidemic infection from 
one to another without knowing it, by such innocent means as a 
handshake, a breath, handing someone something, so, too, they 
passed on the infection of inevitable arrest by a handshake, by a 
breath, by a chance meeting on the street. For if you are destined 
to confess tomorrow that you organized an underground group 
to poison the city’s water supply, and if today I shake hands wiA 
you on the street, that means I, too, am doomed. 

Seven years earlier the city had watched while they massacred 
the countryside and considered it only natural. Now the country¬ 
side might have watched them massacre the city, but the country¬ 
side itself was too dark for that, and was still undergoing the 
finishing touches of its own slaughter. 

The surveyor (!) Saunin got fifteen years for . . . cattle plague 
(!) in the district and for bad harvests (!) (and the entire leader¬ 
ship of the district was shot for the same reason). 

The secretary of a District Party Committee went into the 
fields to speed up the plowing, and an old peasant asked him 
whether he knew that for seven years the collective farmers had 
received not one single ounce of grain in return for their “labor 
days”—only straw and very little of that. For his question the 
peasant got ASA—^Anti-Soviet Agitation—ten years. 

38. Who remembers them? They went on and on every day for hours! 
Stupefyingly identical! Levitan, the announcer, probably remembers them well: 
he used to read them in rolling tones, with great expression! 


Another peasant, with six children, met a different fate. Be¬ 
cause he had six mouths to feed he devoted himself whole¬ 
heartedly to collective farm work, and kept hoping he would get 
some return for his labor. And he did—they awarded him a deco¬ 
ration. They awarded it at a special assembly, made speeches. In 
his reply, the peasant got carried away. He said, “Now if I could 
just have a sack of flour instead of this decoration! Couldn’t I 
somehow?” A wolflike laugh rocketed through the hall, and the 
newly decorated hero went off to exile, together with all six of 
those dependent mouths. 

Should we wrap it all up and simply say that they arrested the 
innocent? But we omitted saying that the very concept of guiH 
had been repealed by the proletarian revolution and, at the be¬ 
ginning of the thirties, was defined as rightist opportunism!^^ 
So we can’t even discuss these out-of-date concepts, guilt and 

The reverse wave of 1939 was an unheard-of incident in the 
history of the Organs, a blot on their record! But, in fact, this 
reverse wave was not large; it included about 1 to 2 percent of 
those who had been arrested but not yet convicted, who had not 
yet been sent away to far-off places and had not yet perished. 
It was not large, but it was put to effective use. It was like giving 
back one kopeck change from a ruble, but it was necessary in 
order to heap all the blame on that dirty Yezhov, to strengthen the 
newcomer, Beria, and to cause the Leader himself to shine more 
brightly. With this kopeck they skillfully drove the ruble right 
into the ground. After all, if “they had sorted things out and 
freed some people” (and even the newspapers wrote intrepidly 
about individual cases of persons who had been slandered), it 
meant that the rest of those arrested were indeed scoundrels! And 
those who returned kept silent. They had signed pledges not to 
speak out. They were mute with terror. And there were very few 
who knew even a little about the secrets of the Archipelago. The 
distinction was as before: Black Marias at night and demonstra¬ 
tions by day. 

But for that matter they soon took that kopeck back—during 

39. Vyshinsky, op. cit. 

The History of Our Sewage Disposal System \ 77 

those same years and via those same sections of the boundless 
Article 58. Well, who in 1940 noticed the wave of wives arrested 
for failure to renounce their husbands? And who in Tambov re¬ 
members that during that year of peace they arrested an entire 
jazz orchestra playing at the “Modem” Cinema Theatre because 
they all turned out to be enemies of the people? And who noticed 
the thirty thousand Czechs who in 1939 fled from occupied 
Czechoslovakia to their Slavic kinfolk in the U.S.S.R.? It was 
impossible to guarantee that a single one of them was not a spy. 
They sent them all off to northern camps. (And it was out of 
those camps that the “Czechoslovak Corps” materialized during 
the war.) And was it not, indeed, in 1939 that we reached out our 
helping hands to the West Ukrainians and the West Byelorussians, 
and, in 1940, to the Baltic states and to the Moldavians? It turned 
out that our brothers badly needed to be purged, and from them, 
too, flowed waves of social prophylaxis. They took those who 
were too independent, too influential, along with those who were 
too well-to-do, too intelligent, too noteworthy; they took> par¬ 
ticularly, many Poles from former Polish provinces. (It was then 
that ill-fated Katyn was filled up; and then, too, that in the north¬ 
ern camps they stockpiled fodder for the future army of Sikorski 
and Anders.) They arrested officers everywhere. Thus the 
population was shaken up, forced into silence, and left with¬ 
out any possible leaders of resistance. Thus it was that wisdom 
was instilled, that former ties and former friendships were cut 

Finland ceded its isthmus to us with zero population. Never¬ 
theless, the removal and resettlement of all persons with Finnish 
blood took place throughout Soviet Karelia and in Leningrad in 
1940. We didn’t notice that wavelet: we have no Finnish blood. 

In the Finnish War we undertook our first experiment in con¬ 
victing our war prisoners as traitors to the Motherland. The first 
such experiment in human history; and would you believe it?— 
we didn’t notice! 

That was the rehearsal—^just at that moment the war burst 
upon us. And with it a massive retreat. It was essential to evacuate 
swiftly everyone who could be got out of the western republics 
that were being abandoned to the enemy. In the rush, entire mili¬ 
tary units—regiments, antiaircraft and artillery batteries—^were 
left behind intact in Lithuania. But they still managed to get out 


several thousand families of unreliable Lithuanians. (Four thou¬ 
sand of them were subsequently turned over to be plundered by 
thieves in camp at Krasnoyarsk.) From June 23 on, in Latvia and 
Estonia, they speeded up the arrests. But the ground was burning 
under them, and they were forced to leave even faster. They 
forgot to take whole fortresses with them, like the one at Brest, 
but they did not forget to shoot down political prisoners in the 
cells and courtyards of Lvov, Rovno, Tallinn, and many other 
Western prisons. In the Tartu Prison they shot 192 prisoners and 
threw their corpses down a well. 

How can one visualize it? You know nothing. The door of your 
cell opens, and they shoot you. You cry out in your death agony, 
and there is no one to hear your cries or tell of them except the 
prison stones. They say, however, that there were some who 
weren’t successfully finished off, and we may someday read a 
book about that too. 

In the rear, the first wartime wave was for those spreading 
rumors and panic. That was the language of a special decree, out¬ 
side the Code, issued in the first days of the war.*® This was just a 
trial bloodletting in order to maintain a general state of tension. 
They gave everyone ten years for it, but it was not considered 
part of Article 58, and therefore those few who survived the war¬ 
time camps were amnestied in 1945. 

Then there was a wave of those who failed to turn in radio 
receivers or radio parts. For one radio tube found (as a result of 
denunciation) they gave ten years. 

Then there was the wave of Germans —Germans living on the 
Volga, colonists in the Ukraine and the North Caucasus, and all 
Germans in general who lived anywhere in the Soviet Union. The 
determining factor here was blood, and even heroes of the Civil 
War and old members of the Party who were German were sent 
off into exile.** 

40. I myself almost felt the impact of that decree. I was standing in line at 
the bread store, when a policeman called me out and took me off for the sake 
of his score. If it had not been for a fortunate intervention, 1 might have started 
out in Gulag right away instead of going off to war. 

41. They judged blood by family name. The design engineer Vasily Okorokov 
had found it inconvenient to sign ^ drawings with his real name. Consequently, 
in the thirties, when it was still legally possible, he had changed his name to 
Robert Shtekker. It was elegant, and he was able to work up a good-looking 
professional signature with it. Now he was arrested as a German—and given 

The History of Our Sewage Disposal System \ 79 

In essence, the exile of the Germans was similar to the dis¬ 
possession of the kulaks. But it was less harsh, since the Germans 
were allowed to take more of their possessions with them and 
were not sent oflE to such fatal, deadly areas. As had been the case 
with the kulaks, the German exile had no juridical basis. The 
Criminal Code in itself was one thing, and the exile of hundreds of 
thousands of people was something else entirely. It was the per¬ 
sonal edict of a monarch. In addition, this was his first experiment 
of the sort with an entire nationality, and he found it extremely 
interesting from a theoretical point of view. 

By the end of the summer of 1941, becoming bigger in the 
autumn, the wave of the encircled was surging in. These were 
the defenders of their native land, the very same warriors whom 
the cities had seen off to the front with bouquets and bands a few 
months before, who had then sustained the heaviest tank assaults 
of the Germans, and in the general chaos, and through no fault 
of their own, had spent a certain time as isolated units not in 
enemy imprisonment, not at aU, but in temporary encirclement, 
and later had broken out. And instead of being given a brotherly 
embrace on their return, such as every other army in the world 
would have given them, instead of being given a chance to rest 
up, to visit their families, and then return to their units—^they 
were held on suspicion, disarmed, deprived of all rights, and 
taken away in groups to identification points and screening centers 
where officers of the Special Branches started interrogating them, 
distrusting not only their every word but their very identity. 
Identification consisted of cross-questioning, confrontations, pit¬ 
ting the evidence of one against another. Afterward, some of 
those who had been encircled were restored to their former names, 
ranks, and responsibilities and went off to military units. Others, 
fewer in number at the start, constituted the first wave of traitors 
of the Motherland under 58-lb. But at first, until the standard 
penalty was finally determined, they got less than ten years. 

That was how the active army was kept purged. But there was 
also an enormous inactive army in the Far East and in Mongolia, 

no chance to prove he was not. So he was exiled. “Is this your real name? 
What assignments were you given by the Fascist intelligence service?” Then 
there was that native of Tambov whose real name was Kaverznev, and who 
changed it to Kolbe in 1918. At what point did he share Okorokov’s fate? 


and it was the noble task of the Special Branches to keep that 
army from growing rusty. And for lack of anything to do, the 
heroes of Khalkhin-Gol and Khasan began to let their tongues 
wag, especially after they were permitted to examine the Degtya¬ 
rev automatic pistols and the regimental mortars, which until 
then had been kept secret even from Soviet soldiers. With such 
weapons in their hands, it was hard for them to understand why 
we were retreating in the west. With all Siberia and the Urals 
between them and European Russia, it was not easy for them to 
grasp that in retreating seventy miles a day we were simply re¬ 
peating the Kutuzov entrapment maneuver. Their comprehension 
could be helped along only by means of a wave from the Eastern 
Army. And at that point lips tightened and faith became steely. 

It was obvious that a wave had also to roll in high places—of 
those to blame for the retreat. (After all, it was not the Great 
Strategist who was at fault!) It was a small wave, just half a hun¬ 
dred men, a generals’ wave. They were in Moscow prisons by the 
summer of 1941, and in October, 1941, they were sent off on a 
prisoner transport. Most of the generals were from the air force; 
among them were Air Force Commander Smushkevich and Gen¬ 
eral Ptukhin, who was known to have said: “If I had known, I 
would have first bombed our Dear Father, and then gone off to 
prison!” And there were others. 

The victory outside Moscow gave rise to a new wave: guilty 
Muscovites. Looking at things after the event, it turned out that 
those Muscovites who had not run away and who had not been 
evacuated but had fearlessly remained in the threatened capital, 
which had been abandoned by the authorities, were by that very 
token under suspicion either of subverting governmental authority 
(58-10); or of staying on to await the Germans (58-la, via 19, a 
wave which kept on providing fodder for the interrogators of 
Moscow and Leningrad right up to 1945). 

It need hardly be said that 58-10, ASA—Anti-Soviet Agita¬ 
tion—^never let up but hovered over the front and in the rear 
throughout the war. Sentences under 58-10 were handed out to 
evacuees who talked about the horrors of the retreat (it was 
clear from the newspapers that the retreat was proceeding accord¬ 
ing to plan); to those in the rear who were guilty of the slanderous 
rumor that rations were meager; to those at the front who were 
guilty of the slanderous rumor that the Germans had excellent 

The History of Our Sewage Disposal System \ 81 

equipment; and to those everywhere who, in 1942, were guilty of 
the slanderous rumor that people were dying of starvation in 
blockaded Leningrad. 

During that same year, after the disasters at Kerch (120,000 
prisoners), at Kharkov (even more), and in the course of the 
big southern retreat to the Caucasus and the Volga, another very 
important wave of officers and soldiers was pumped through— 
those who refused to stand to the death and who retreated without 
permission, the men whom, in the words of Stalin’s immortal 
Order No. 227, the Motherland could not forgive for the shame 
they had caused her. This wave, however, never reached Gulag: 
after accelerated processing by divisional tribunals, it was, to a 
man, herded into punishment battalions, and was soaked up in 
the red sand of advanced positions, leaving not a trace. Thus was 
cemented the foundation of the Stalingrad victory, but it has 
found no place in the usual Russian history and exists only in the 
private history of the sewage system. 

(Incidentally, we are here trying to identify only those waves 
which came into Gulag from outside. There was, after all, 
an incessant internal recirculation from reservoir to reservoir, 
through the system of so-called sentencing in camp, which was 
particularly rampant during the war years. But we are not con¬ 
sidering those in this chapter.) 

Conscientiousness requires that we recall also the reverse waves 
of wartime: the previously mentioned Czechs and Poles who 
were released; as well as criminals released for service at the front. 

From 1943 on, when the war turned in our favor, there began 
the multimillion wave from the occupied territories and from 
Europe, which got larger every year up to 1946. Its two main 
divisions were: 

• Civilians who had lived under the Germans or among 

Germans—hung with a tenner under the letter “a”: 58-la. 

• Military personnel who had been POW’s—^who were 

nailed with a tenner under the letter “b”: 58-lb. 

Everyone living under the occupation wanted, of course, to 
survive, and therefore could not remain with hands folded, and 
thereby theoretically earned, along with his daily bread, a future 
sentence—^if not for treason to the Motherland, then at least for 


aiding and abetting the enemy. However, in actual practice, it 
was enough to note in the passport serial number that a per¬ 
son had been in occupied territory. To arrest all such persons 
would have been, from the economic point of view, irrational, 
because it would have depopulated such enormous areas. All 
that was required in order to heighten the general consciousness 
was to arrest a certain percentage—of those guilty, those half- 
guilty, those quarter-guilty, and those who h^ hung out their 
footcloths to diy on the same branch as the Germans. 

After all, even one percent of just one million fills up a dozen 
full-blooded camps. 

And dismiss the thought that honorable participation in an 
underground anti-German organization would surely protect one 
from being arrested in this wave. More than one case proved this. 
For instance, there was the Kiev Komsomol member whom the 
underground organization sent to serve in the Kiev police during 
the German occupation in order to obtain inside information. The 
boy kept the Komsomol honestly informed about everything, 
but when our forces arrived on the scene, he got his tenner be¬ 
cause he couldn’t, while serving in the police, fail to acquire some 
of the enemy’s spirit or to carry out some enemy orders. 

Those who were in Europe got the stiffest punishments of all, 
even though they went there as conscripted German slaves. That 
was because they had seen something of European life and could 
talk about it. And their stories, which made unpleasant listening 
for us (except, of course, for the travel notes of sensible writers), 
were especially unpleasant during the postwar years of ruin and 
disorganization; not everyone, after all, was able to report that 
things in Europe were hopelessly bad and that it was absolutely 
impossible to live there. 

That also was the reason why they sentenced the majority of 
war prisoners (it was not simply because they had allowed them¬ 
selves to be captured), particularly those POW’s who had seen a 
little more of the West than a German death camp.“ This was 

42. That was not such a clear-cut decision at the start. Even in 1943 there 
were certain separate waves which were like no others—like the so-called 
“Africans,” who bore this nickname for a long time at the Vorkuta construc¬ 
tion projects. These were Russian war prisoners of the Germans, who had been 
taken prisoner a second time when the Americans captured them from Rom¬ 
mel’s army in Africa (the “Hiwi”). In 1943 they were sent in Studebakers, 
through Eg)fpt, Iraq, and Iran, to their Motherland. And on a desert gulf of the 

The History of Our Sewage Disposal System \ 83 

obvious from the fact that interned persons were sentenced as 
severely as POW’s. For example, during the first days of the war 
one of our destroyers went aground on Swedish territory. Its crew 
proceeded to five freely in Sweden during all the rest of the war, 
and in such comfort and plenty as they had never experienced 
before and would never experience again. The U.S.S.R, retreated, 
attacked, starved and died, while those scoundrels stuffed their 
neutral mugs. After the war Sweden returned them to us along 
with the destroyer. Their treason to the Motherland was indubi¬ 
table—but somehow the case didn’t get off the ground. They let 
them go their different ways and then pasted them with Anti- 
Soviet Agitation for their lovely stories in praise of freedom and 
good eating in capitalist Sweden. (This was the Kadenko 

Caspian, they were immediately put behind barbed wire. The police who 
received them ripped off their military insignia and liberated them of all things 
the Americans had given them (keeping them for themselves, of course, not 
turning them over to the state); then they sent them off to Vorkuta to await 
special orders, without (due to inexperience) sentencing them to a specific 
term under any article of the Code. These “Africans” lived in Vorkuta in a 
betwixt-and-between condition. They were not under guard, but they were 
given no passes, and without passes they could not take so much as one step 
in Vorkuta. They were paid wages at the same rate as free workers, but they 
were treated like prisoners. And the special orders never did come. They were 
forgotten men. 

43. What happened to this group later makes an anecdote. In camp they 
kept their mouths shut about Sweden, fearing they’d get a second term. But 
people in Sweden somehow found out about their fate and published slanderous 
reports in the press. By that time the boys were scattered far and near among 
various camps. Suddenly, on the strength of special orders, they were all 
yanked out and taken to the Kresty Prison in Leningrad. There they were fed 
for two months as though for slaughter and allowed to let their hair grow. 
Then they were dressed with modest elegance, rehearsed on what to say and 
to whom, and warned that any bastard who dared to squeak out of turn would 
get a bullet in his skull—and they were led off to a press conference for selected 
foreign journalists and some others who had known the entire crew in Sweden. 
The former internees bore themselves cheerfully described where they were 
living, studying, and working, and expressed their indignation at the bourgeois 
slander they had read about not long before in the Western press (after all. 
Western papers are sold in the Soviet Union at every corner newsstand!). And 
so they had written to one another and decided to gather in Leningrad. (Their 
travel expenses didn’t bother them in the least.) Their fresh, shiny appearance 
completely gave the lie to the newspaper canard. The discredited journalists 
went off to write their apologies. It was wholly inconceivable to the Western 
imagination that there could be any other explanation. And the men who had 
been the subjects of the interview were taken off to a bath, had their hair 
cut off again, were dressed in their former rags, and sent back to the same 
camps. But because they had conducted themselves properly, none of them 
was given a second term. 


Within the over-all wave of those from formerly occupied areas, 
there followed, one after another, the quick and compact waves 
of the nationalities which had transgressed: 

• In 1943, the Kalmyks, Chechens, Ingush, and Balkars. 

• In 1944, the Crimean Tatars. 

They would not have been pushed out into eternal exile so 
energetically and swiftly had it not been that regular army units 
and military trucks were assigned to help the Organs. The military 
units gallantly surrounded the auls, or settlements, and, within 
twenty-four hours, with the speed of a parachute attack, those 
who had nested there for centuries past found themselves removed 
to railroad stations, loaded by the trainload, and rushed off to 
Siberia, Kazakhstan, Central Asia, and the Russian North. Within 
one day their land and their property had been turned over to 
their “heirs.” 

What had happened to the Germans at the beginning of the 
war now happened to these nationalities: they were exiled solely 
on the basis of blood. There was no filling out of questionnaires; 
Party members. Heroes of Labor, and heroes of the still-unfinished 
war were all sent along with the rest. 

During the last years of the war, of course, there was a wave 
of German war criminals who were selected from the POW 
camps and transferred by court verdict to the jurisdiction of 

In 1945, even though the war with Japan didn’t last three 
weeks, great numbers of Japanese war prisoners were raked in 
for urgent construction projects in Siberia and Central Asia, and 
the same process of selecting war criminals for Gulag was carried 
out among them.^^ 

At the end of 1944, when our army entered the Balkans, and 
especially in 1945, when it reached into Central Europe, a wave 
of Russian imigris flowed through the channels of Gulag. Most 
were old men, who had left at the time of the Revolution, but 
there were also young people, who had grown up outside Russia. 
They usually dragged off the menfolk and left the women and 

44. Without knowing the details, I am nevertheless convinced that a great 
many of these Japanese could not have been sentenced legitimately. It was an 
act of revenge, as well as a means of holding onto manpower for as long a 
period as possible. 

The History of Our Sewage Disposal System \ 85 

children where they were. It is true that they did not take every¬ 
one, but they took all those who, in the course of twenty-five 
years, had expressed even the mildest political views, or who had 
expressed them earlier, during the Revolution. They did not touch 
those who had lived a purely vegetable existence. The main waves 
came from Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia; there were 
fewer from Austria and Germany. In the other countries of 
Eastern Europe, there were hardly any Russians. 

As if in response to 1945, a wave of emigres poured from 
Manchuria too. (Some of them were not arrested immediately. 
Entire families were encouraged to return to the homeland as free 
persons, but once back in Russia they were separated and sent 
into exile or taken to prison.) 

All during 1945 and 1946 a big wave of genuine, at-long-last, 
enemies of the Soviet government fiowed into the Archipelago. 
(These were the Vlasov men, the Krasnov Cossacks, and Moslems 
from the national units created under Hitler.) Some of them had 
acted out of conviction; others had been merely involuntary par¬ 

Along with them were seized not less than one million fugitives 
from the Soviet government —civilians of all ages and of both 
sexes who had been fortunate enough to find shelter on Allied 
territory, but who in 1946-1947 were perfidiously returned by 
Allied authorities into Soviet hands.^® 

45. It is surprising that in the West, where political secrets cannot be kept 
long, since they inevitably come out in print or are disclosed, the secret of this 
particular act of betrayal has been very well and carefully kept by the British 
and American governments. This is truly the last secret, or one of the last, 
of the Second World War. Having often encountered these people in camps, 
I was unable to believe for a whole quarter-century that the public in the 
West knew nothing of this action of the Western governments, this massive 
handing over of ordinary Russian people to retribution and death. Not until 
1973—in the Sunday Oklahoman of January 21—was an article by Julius 
Epstein published. And I am here going to be so bold as to express gratitude 
on behalf of the mass of those who perished and those few left alive. One 
random little document was published from the many volumes of the hitherto 
concealed case history of forced repatriation to the Soviet Union. “After hav¬ 
ing remained unmolested in British hands for two years, they had allowed 
themselves to be lulled into a false sense of security and they were therefore 
taken completely by surprise. . . . They did not realize they were being re¬ 
patriated. . . . They were mainly simple peasants with bitter personal grievances 
against the Bolsheviks.” The English authorities gave them the treatment 
“reserved in the case of every other nation for war criminals alone: that of 
being handed over against their will to captors who, incidentally, were not 
expected to give them a fair trial.” They were all sent to destruction on the 
Archipelago. (Author’s note, dated 1973.) 



A certain number of Poles, members of the Home Army, fol¬ 
lowers of Mikolajczyk, arrived in Gulag in 1945 via our prisons. 
There were a certain number of Rumanians and Hungarians. 

At war’s end and for many years after, there flowed uninter¬ 
ruptedly an abundant wave of Ukrainian nationalists (the “Ban- 

Against the background of this enormous postwar displace¬ 
ment of millions, few paid much attention to such small waves as: 

• Foreigners’ girl friends (in 1946-1947)—^in other words, 
Soviet girls who went out with foreigners. They sentenced these 
girls under Article 7-35—SOE—Socially Dangerous Element. 

• Spanish children —the same children who had been taken 
from their homeland during the Spanish Civil War, but who 
were adults by the end of World War II. Raised in our board¬ 
ing schools, Aey nonetheless fitted very poorly into our life. 
Many longed to go “home.” They, too, were given 7-35—SOE 
—Socially Dangerous Element. And those who were particu¬ 
larly stubborn got 58-6—espionage on behalf of America. 

(In fairness we must not forget the brief reverse wave of priests 
in 1947. Yes, a miracle! For the first time in thirty years they 
freed priests! They didn’t actually go about seeking them out in 
camps, but whenever a priest was known to people in freedom, 
and whenever ^ name and exact location could be provided, the 
individual priests in question were sent out to freedom in order to 
strengthen the church, which at that time was being revived.) 

We have to remind our readers once again that this chapter 
does not attempt by any means to list all the waves which fertilized 
Gulag—^but only those which had a political coloration. And 
just as, in a course in physiology, after a detailed description of 
the circulation of the blood, one can begin over again and de¬ 
scribe in detail the lymphatic system, one could begin again and 
describe the waves of nonpolitical offenders and habitual criminals 
from 1918 to 1953. And this description, too, would run long. 
It would bring to light many famous decrees, now in part for- 

The History of Our Sewage Disposal System | 87 

gotten (even though they have never been repealed), which 
supplied abundant human material for the insatiable Archipelago. 
One was the Decree on Absenteeism. One was the Decree on Pro¬ 
duction of Bad Quality Goods. Another was on samogon [moon¬ 
shine] distilling. Its peak period was 1922—^but arrests for this 
were constant throughout the twenties. And the Decree on the 
Pimishment of Collective Farmers for Failure to Fulfill the 
Obligatory Norm of Labor Days. And the Decree on the Intro¬ 
duction of Military Discipline on Railroads, issued in April, 1943 
—not at the beginning of the war, but when it had already taken 
a turn for the better. 

In accordance with the ancient Petrine tradition, these decrees 
always put in an appearance as the most important element in all 
our legislation, but without any comprehension of or reference to 
the whole of our previous legislation. Learned jurists were sup¬ 
posed to coordinate the branches of the law, but they were not 
particularly energetic at it, nor particularly successful either. 

This steady pulse of decrees led to a curious national pattern of 
violations and crimes. One could easily recognize that neither 
burglary, nor murder, nor samogon ^stilling, nor rape ever 
seemed to occur at random intervals or in random places toough- 
out the country as a result of human weakness, lust, or failure to 
control one’s passions. By no means! One detected, instead, a 
surprising unanimity and monotony in the crimes committed. The 
entire Soviet Union would be in a turmoil of rape alone, or mur¬ 
der alone, or samogon distilling alone, each in its turn—^in sensi¬ 
tive reaction to the latest government decree. Each particular 
crime or violation seemed somehow to be playing into the hands 
of the latest decree so that it would disappear from the scene that 
much faster! At that precise moment, the particular crime which 
had just been foreseen, and for which wise new legislation had 
just provided stricter punishment, would explode simultaneously 

The Decree on the militarization of railroads crowded the 
military tribunals with the women and adolescents who did most 
of the work on the railroads during the war years and who, having 
received no barracks training beforehand, were those mostly in¬ 
volved in delays and violations. The Decree on Failure to Ful¬ 
fill the Obligatory Norm of Labor Days greatly simplified the 


procedure for removing from the scene those collective farmers 
who were dissatisfied with receiving for their labor mere “labor 
day” points in the farm account books and wanted produce in¬ 
stead. Whereas previously their cases had required a trial, based 
on the article of the Code relating to “economic counterrevolu¬ 
tion,” now it was enough to produce a collective farm decree 
confirmed by the District Executive Committee. And even then 
these collective farmers, although they were sent into exile, must 
have been relieved to know that they were not listed as enemies 
of the people. The obligatory norm of “labor days” was different 
in different areas, the easiest of all being among the peoples of 
the Caucasus—seventy-five “labor days” a year; but despite that, 
many of them were also sent off to Krasnoyarsk Province for 
eight years. 

As we have said, we are not going to go into a lengthy and 
lavish examination of the waves of nonpolitical offenders and 
common criminals. But, having reached 1947, we cannot remain 
silent about one of the most grandiose of Stalin’s decrees. We 
have already mentioned the famous law of “Seven-Eight” or 
“Seven-eighths,” on the basis of which they arrested people right 
and left—^for taking a stalk of grain, a cucumber, two small 
potatoes, a chip of wood, a spool of thread—all of whom got 
ten years.^® 

But the requirements of the times, as Stalin understood them, 
had changed, and the tenner, which had seemed adequate on the 
eve of a terrible war, seemed now, in the wake of a world-wide 
historical victory, inadequate. And so again, in complete dis¬ 
regard of the Code, and totally overlooking the fact that many 
different articles and decrees on the subject of thefts and rob¬ 
beries already existed, on June 4, 1947, a decree was issued 
which outdid them all. It was instantly christened “Four-sixths” 
by the undismayed prisoners. 

The advantages of the new decree lay first of all in its newness. 
From the very moment it appeared, a torrent of the crimes it 
specified would be bound to burst forth, thereby providing an 
abundant wave of newly sentenced prisoners. But it offered an 

46. In the actual documents of the “spool of thread” case, they wrote down 
“200 meters of sewing material.” The fact remains that they were ashamed to 
write “a spool of thread.” 

The History of Our Sewage Disposal System \ 89 

even greater advantage in prison terms. If a young girl sent into 
the fields to get a few ears of grain took along two friends for com¬ 
pany (“an organized gang”) or some twelve-year-old youngsters 
went after cucumbers or apples, they were liable to get twenty 
years in camp. In factories, the maximum sentence was raised to 
twenty-five years. (This sentence, called the quarter, had been 
introduced a few days earlier to replace the death penalty, which 
had been abolished as a humane act.)^^ 

And then, at long last, an ancient shortcoming of the law was 
corrected. Previously the only failure to make a denunciation 
which qualified as a crime against the state had been in connection 
with political offenses. But now simple failure to report the theft 
of state or collective farm property earned three years of camp or 
seven years of exile. 

In tlie years immediately following this decree, whole “divi¬ 
sions” from the countryside and the cities were sent off to cultivate 
the islands of Gulag in place of the natives who had died off there. 
True, these waves were processed through the police and the 
ordinary courts, and did not clog the channels of State Security, 
which, even without them, were overstrained in the postwar years. 

Stalin’s new line, suggesting that it was necessary, in the wake 
of the victory over fascism, to jail more people more energetically 
and for longer terms than ever before, had immediate repercus¬ 
sions, of course, on political prisoners. 

The year 1948-1949, notable throughout Soviet public life for 
intensified persecution and vigilance, was marked by one tragi¬ 
comedy hitherto unheard of even in Stalinist antijustice—that of 
the repeaters. 

That is what, in the language of Gulag, they called those still 
undestroyed unfortunates of 1937 vintage, who had succeeded in 
surviving ten impossible, unendurable years, and who in 1947- 
1948, had timidly stepped forth onto the land of freedom . . . 
worn out, broken in health, but hoping to live out in peace what 
little of their lives remained. But some sort of savage fantasy (or 
stubborn malice, or unsated vengeance) pushed the Victorious 

47. And the death penalty itself was kept veiled for a brief period only; 
the veil was removed, amid a show of bared fangs, two and a half years later 
—in January, 1950. 


Generalissimo into issuing the order to arrest all those cripples 
over again, without any new charges! It was even disadvantageous, 
both economically and politically, to clog the meat grinder with 
its own refuse. But Stalin issued the order anyway. Here was a 
case in which a historical personality simply behaved capriciously 
toward historical necessity. 

And so it was necessary to take all of them though they had 
hardly had a chance to attach themselves to new places or new 
families. They were rounded up with much the same weary in¬ 
dolence they themselves now returned with. They knew before¬ 
hand the whole way of the cross ahead. They did not ask “What 
for?” And they did not say to their families: “I’ll be back.” They 
put on their shabbiest rags, poured some makhorka into their 
camp tobacco pouches, and went off to sign the deposition. (Only 
one question: “Are you the one who was in prison?” “Yes.” “Take 
ten more.”) 

At this point the Autocrat decided it wasn’t enough to arrest 
just those who had survived since 1937! What about the children 
of his sworn enemies? They, too, must be imprisoned! They were 
growing up, and they might have notions of vengeance. (He may 
have had a heavy dinner and had a nightmare about those chil¬ 
dren.) They went through the lists,-looked around, and arrested 
children—^but not very many. They arrested the children of the 
purged army commanders, but not all the children of Trotskyites. 
And so the wave of the vengeful children came into being. 
(Among such children were seventeen-year-old Lena Kosaryeva 
and thirty-five-year-old Yelena Rakovskaya.) 

By 1948, after the great European displacement, Stalin had 
succeeded once again in tightly barricading himself in and pulling 
the ceiling down closer to him: in this reduced space he had re¬ 
created the tension of 1937. 

And so in 1948, 1949, and 1950 there flowed past: 

• Alleged spies (ten years earlier they had been German 
and Japanese, now they were Anglo-American). 

• Believers (this wave non-Orthodox for the most part). 

• Those geneticists and plant breeders, disciples of the late 
Vavilov and of Mendel, who had not previously been arrested. 

• Just plain ordinary thinking people (and students, with 
particular severity) who had not been sufficiently scared away 

The History of Our Sewage Disposal System ] 91 

from the West. It was fashionable to charge them with; 

• VAT—^Praise of American Technology; 

• VAD—Praise of American Democracy; and 

• PZ—^Toadyism Toward the West. 

These waves were not unlike those of 1937, but the sentences 
were different. The standard sentence was no longer the patri¬ 
archal ten-ruble bill, but the new Stalinist twenty-five. By now 
the tenner was for juveniles. 

There was a good-sized wave from the new Decree on Reveal¬ 
ing State Secrets. (State secrets included such things as; the 
district harvest; any figure on epidemics; the type of goods pro¬ 
duced by any workshop or mini-factory; mention of a civil airport, 
municipal transport routes, or the family name of any prisoner 
imprisoned in any camp.) For violations of this decree they gave 
fifteen years. 

The waves of nationalities were not forgotten either. The 
Ukrainian nationalists, the “Banderovtsy,” taken in the heat of 
struggle from the forests where they fought, kept flowing all this 
time. Simultaneously, all West Ukrainian country people received 
tenners and fivers in camps and exile—^presumably for having 
had connections with the partisans; someone had let them spend 
the night; someone had once fed them; someone had not reported 
them. For about a year, starting in 1950, a wave of wives of 
Banderovtsy was under way. They gave them each ten years for 
failure to make a denunciation—so as to finish off their husbands 

By this time resistance in Lithuania and Estonia had already 
come to an end. But in 1949 new waves of new “social prophy¬ 
laxis” to assure collectivization kept coming. They took whole 
trainloads of city dwellers and peasants from the three Baltic 
republics into Siberian exile. (The historical rhythm was dis¬ 
rupted in these republics; they were forced to recapitulate in 
brief, limited periods the more extended experience of the rest 
of the country.) 

In 1948 one more nationalist wave went into exile—that of the 
Greeks who inhabited the areas around the Sea of Azov, the 
Kuban, and Sukhumi. They had done nothing to offend the 
Father during the war, but now he avenged himself on them for 
his failure in Greece, or so it seemed. This wave, too, was evi- 


dently the fruit of his personal insanity. The majority of the 
Greeks ended up in Central Asian exile; those who voiced their 
discontent were thrown into political prisons. 

Around 1950, to avenge die same lost war, or perhaps just to 
balance those already in exile, the Greek rebels from Markos’ 
army, who had been turned over to us by Bulgaria, were them¬ 
selves shipped off to the Archipelago. 

During the last years of Stalin’s life, a wave of Jews became 
noticeable. (From 1950 on they were hauled in little by little as 
cosmopolites. And that was why the doctors’ case was cooked up. 
It would appear that Stalin intended to arrange a great massacre 
of the Jews.)^® 

But this became the first plan of his life to fail. God told him 
—apparently with the help of human hands—to depart from his 
rib cage. 

The preceding exposition should have made it clear, one 
would think, that in the removal of millions and in the populating 
of Gulag, consistent, cold-blooded planning and never-weakening 
persistence were at work. 

That we never did have any empty prisons, merely prisons 
which were full or prisons which were very, very overcrowded. 

And that while you occupied yourself to your heart’s content 
studying the safe secrets of the atomic nucleus, researching the 
influence of Heidegger on Sartre, or collecting Picasso reproduc¬ 
tions; while you rode off in your railroad sleeping compartment 
to vacation resorts, or finished building your country house near 
Moscow—the Black Marias rolled incessantly through the streets 
and the gaybisty—the State Security men—knocked at doors and 
rang doorbells. 

And I think this exposition proves that the Organs always 
earned their pay. 

48. It has always been impossible to learn the truth about anything in our 
country—now, and always, and from the beginning. But, according to Moscow 
rumors, Stalin’s plan was this: At the beginning of March the “doctor-mur¬ 
derers” were to be hanged on Red Square. The aroused patriots, spurred on, 
naturally, by instructors, were to rush into an anti-Jewish pogrom. At this 
point the government—and here Stalin’s character can be divined, can it not? 
—would intervene generously to save the Jews from the wrath of the people, 
and that same night would remove them from Moscow to the Far East and 
Siberia—where barracks had already been prepared for them. 

Chapter 3 

The Interrogation 

If the intellectuals in the plays of Chekhov who spent all their 
time guessing what would happen in twenty, thirty, or forty years 
had been told that in forty years interrogation by torture would be 
practiced in Russia; that prisoners would have their skulls 
squeezed within iron rings that a human being would be lowered 
into an acid bath;^ that they would be trussed up naked to be 
bitten by ants and bedbugs; that a ramrod heated over a primus 
stove would be thrust up their anal canal (the “secret brand”); 
that a man’s genitals would be slowly crushed beneath the toe 
of a jackboot; and that, in the luckiest possible circumstances, 
prisoners would be tortured by being kept from sleeping for a 
week, by thirst, and by being beaten to a bloody pulp, not one of 
Chekhov’s plays would have gotten to its end because all the 
heroes would have gone off to insane asylums. 

Yes, not only Chekhov’s heroes, but what normal Russian at 
the beginning of the century, including any member of the Rus¬ 
sian Social Democratic Workers’ Party, could have believed, 
would have tolerated, such a slander against the bright future? 
What had been acceptable under Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich in 
the seventeenth century, what had already been regarded as 
barbarism under Peter the Great, what might have been used 
against ten or twenty people in all during the time of Biron in the 

1. Dr. S., according to the testimony of A.P.K-^va. 

2. K. S. T-e. 



mid-eighteenth century, what had already become totally impos¬ 
sible under Catherine the Great, was all being practiced during 
the flowering of the glorious twentieth century—^in a society based 
on socialist principles, and at a time when airplanes were flying 
and the radio and talking films had already appeared—not by one 
scoundrel alone in one secret place only, but by tens of thousands 
of specially trained human beasts standing over millions of de¬ 
fenseless victims. 

Was it only that explosion of atavism which is now evasively 
called “the cult of personality” that was so horrible? Or was it 
even more horrible that during those same years, in 1937 itself, 
we celebrated Pushkin’s centennial? And that we shamelessly 
continued to stage those self-same Chekhov plays, even though 
the answers to them had already come in? Is it not still more 
dreadful that we are now being told, thirty years later, “Don’t 
talk about it!”? If we start to recall the sufferings of millions, we 
are told it will distort the historical perspective! If we doggedly 
seek out the essence of our morality, we are told it will darken 
our material progress! Let’s think rather about the blast furnaces, 
the rolling mills that were built, the canals that were dug ... no, 
better not talk about the canals. . . . Then maybe about the gold 
of the Kolyma? No, maybe we ought not to talk about that 
either.... Well, we can talk about anything, so long as we do it 
adroitly, so long as we glorify it. . . . 

It is really hard to see why we condemn the Inquisition. Wasn’t 
it true that beside the autos-da-fe, magnificent services were 
offered the Almighty? It is hard to see why we are so down on 
serfdom. After all, no one forbade the peasants to work every 
day. And they could sing carols at Christmas too. And for Trinity 
Day the girls wove wreaths. . . . 

The exceptional character which written and oral legend now¬ 
adays assigns to the year 1937 is seen in the creation of fabri¬ 
cated charges and tortures. But this is untrue, wrong. Throughout 
the years and decades, interrogations under Article 58 were al¬ 
most never undertaken to elicit the truth, but were simply an 
exercise in an inevitably filthy procedure: someone who had been 

The Interrogation \ 95 

free only a little while before, who was sometimes proud and 
always unprepared, was to be bent and pushed through a narrow 
pipe where his sides would be torn by iron hooks and where he 
could not breathe, so that he would finally pray to get to the 
other end. And at the other end, he would be shoved out, an 
already processed native of the Archipelago, already in the 
promised land. (The fool would keep on resisting! He even 
thought there was a way back out of the pipe.) 

The more time that passes without anything being written 
about all this, the harder it becomes to assemble the scattered 
testimony of the survivors. But they tell us that the creation of 
fabricated cases began back in the early years of the Organs so 
their constant salutary activity might be perceived as essential. 
Otherwise, what with a decline in the number of enemies, the 
Organs might, in a bad hour, have been forced to wither away. 
As the case of Kosyrev makes clear,® the situation of the Cheka 
was shaky even at the beginning of 1919. Reading the newspapers 
of 1918,1 ran into the official report of a terrible plot that had 
just been discovered: A group of ten people wanted to (it seems 
they only wanted to!) drag cannon onto the roof of an orphanage 
(let’s see—how high was it?) and shell the Kremlin. There were 
ten of them (including, perhaps, women and youngsters), and 
it was not reported how many cannon there were to be—nor 
where the caimon were to come from. Nor what caliber they were. 
Nor how they were to be carried up the stairs to the attic. Nor 
how they were to be set up, on the steeply sloping roof, and so 
they wouldn’t recoil when fired! How was it that the Petersburg 
police, when they were fighting to put down the February Revo¬ 
lution, took nothing heavier than a machine gun up to the roofs? 
Yet this fantasy, exceeding even the fabrications of 1937, was 
read and believed! Apparently, it will be proved to us in time 
that the Gumilyev case of 1921 was also fabricated.^ 

In that same year, 1921, the Ryazan Cheka fabricated a false 
case of a “plot” on the part of the local intelligentsia. But the 
protests of courageous people could still reach Moscow, and 
they dropped the case. That year, too, the whole Sapropelite Com- 

3. Cf. Part I, Chapter 8, below. 

4. A. A. Akhmatova told me she was convinced that this was so. She even 
gave me the name of the Chekist who cooked up the case —^Y. Agranov, it seems. 


mittee, part of the Commission on the Use of Natural Forces, was 
shot. Familiar enough with the attitude and the mood of Russian 
scientists at that time, and not being shut off from those years 
by a smoke screen of fanaticism, we can, indeed, figure out, even 
without archaeological excavations, the precise validity of that 

Here is what Y. Doyarenko remembers about 1921: the Lub- 
yanka reception cell for those newly arrested, with forty to fifty 
trestle beds, and women being brought in one after another all 
night long. None of them knew what she was supposed to be 
guilty of, and there was a feeling among them that people were 
being arrested for no reason at all. Only one woman in the whole 
cell knew why she was there—^she was an SR. The first question 
asked by Yagoda: “Well, what are you here for?” In other words, 
you tell me, and help me cook up the case! And they say abso¬ 
lutely the same thing about the Ryazan GPU in 1930! People all 
felt they were being imprisoned for no reason. There was so little 

on which to base a charge that they accused I. D. T- v of 

using a false name. (And even though his name was perfectly 
real, they handed him three years via a Special Board—OSO— 
under 58-10.) Not knowing what to pick on, the interrogator 
asked: “What was your job?” Answer: “A planner.” The inter- 
rogater: “Write me a statement that explains ‘planning at the 
factory and how it is carried out.’ After that I will let you know 
why you’ve been arrested.” (He expected the explanation to pro¬ 
vide the hook on which to hang a charge.) 

Here is the way it went in the case of the Kovno Fortress in 
1912: Since the fortress served no useful military purpose, it was 
decided to eliminate it. At that point the fortress command, 
thoroughly alarmed, arranged a “night attack” simply to prove its 
usefulness and in order to stay where they were! 

The theoretical view of the suspect’s guilt was, incidentally, 
quite elastic from the very beginning. In his instructions on the 
use of Red Terror, the Chekist M. I. Latsis wrote: “In the inter¬ 
rogation do not seek evidence and proof that the person accused 
acted in word or deed against Soviet power. The first questions 
should be: What is his class, what is his origin, what is his educa¬ 
tion and upbringing? [There is your Sapropelite Committee for 
you!] These are the questions which must determine the fate of 

The Interrogation \ 97 

the accused.” On November 13, 1920, Dzerzhinsky reported in a 
letter to the Cheka that “slanderous declarations are often given 
the green light” in the Cheka. 

After so many decades have they not taught us that people do 
not return from there? Except for the small, brief, intentional re¬ 
verse wave of 1939, one hears only the rarest, isolated stories of 
someone being turned loose as the result of an interrogation. And 
in such cases, the person was either imprisoned soon again or 
else he was let out so he could be kept under surveillance. That 
is how the tradition arose that the Organs do not make mistakes. 
Then what about those who were innocent? 

In his Dictionary of Definitions Dal makes the following dis¬ 
tinction: “An inquiry is distinguished from an investigation by 
the fact that it is carried out to determine whether there is a basis 
for proceeding to an investigation.” 

On, sacred simplicity! The Organs have never heard of such a 
thing as an inquiry! Lists of names prepared up above, or an 
initial suspicion, or a denunciation by an informer, or any anony¬ 
mous denunciation,® were all that was needed to bring about the 
arrest of the suspect, followed by the inevitable formal charge. 
The time allotted for investigation was not used to unravel the 
crime but, in ninety-five cases out of a hundred, to exhaust, wear 
down, weaken, and render helpless the defendant, so that he 
would want it to end at any cost. 

As long ago as 1919 the chief method used by the interrogator 
was a revolver on the desk. That was how they investigated not 
only political but also ordinary misdemeanors and violations. At 
the trial of the Main Fuels Committee (1921), the accused 
Makhrovskaya complained that at her interrogation she had been 
drugged with cocaine. The prosecutor replied: “If she had de¬ 
clared that she had been treated rudely, that they had threatened 
to shoot her, this might be just barely believable.”^ The frighten¬ 
ing revolver lies there and sometimes it is aimed at you, and the 
interrogator doesn’t tire himself out thinking up what you are 

5. Article 93 of the Code of Criminal Procedure has this to say: “An anony¬ 
mous declaration can serve as reason for beginning a criminal case”! (And 
there is no need to be surprised at the word “criminal” here, since all “politicals” 
were considered criminals, too, under the Code.) 

6. N. V. Krylenko, Za Pyat Let (1918-1922) (The Last Five Years [1918- 
1922]), Moscow-Petrograd, GIZ, 1923, p. 401. 


guilty of, but shouts: “Come on, talk! You know what about!” 
That was what the interrogator Khaikin demanded of Skripnikova 
in 1927. That was what they demanded of Vitkovsky in 1929. 
And twenty-five years later nothing had changed. In 1952 Anna 
Skripnikova was undergoing her fifth imprisonment, and Sivakov, 
Chief of the Investigative Department of the Ordzhonikidze 
State Security Administration, said to her; “The prison doctor re¬ 
ports you have a blood pressure of 240/120. That’s too low, you 
bitch! We’re going to drive it up to 340 so you’ll kick the bucket, 
you viper, and with no black and blue marks; no beatings; no 
broken bones. We’ll just not let you sleep.” She was in her fifties 
at the time. And if, back in her cell, after a night spent in inter¬ 
rogation, she closed her eyes during the day, the jailer broke in 
and shouted: “Open your eyes or Til haul you off that cot by the 
legs and tie you to the wall standing up.” 

As early as 1921 interrogations usually took place at night. 
At that time, too, they shone automobile lights in the prisoner’s 
face (the Ryazan Cheka—Stelmakh). And at the Lubyanka in 
1926 (according to the testimony of Berta Gandal) they made 
use of the hot-air heating system to fill the cell first with icy-cold 
and then with stinking hot air. And there was an airtight cork- 
lined cell in which there was no ventilation and they cooked the 
prisoners. The poet Klyuyev was apparently confined in such a 
cell and Berta Gandal also. A participant in the Yaroslavl up¬ 
rising of 1918, Vasily Aleksandrovich Kasyanov, described how 
the heat in such a cell was turned up until your blood began to 
ooze through your pores. When they saw this happening through 
the peephole, they would put the prisoner on a stretcher and take 
him off to sign his confession. The “hot” and “salty” methods of 
the “gold” period are well known. And in Georgia in 1926 they 
used lighted cigarettes to burn the hands of prisoners under 
interrogation. In Metekhi Prison they pushed prisoners into a 
cesspool in the dark. 

There is a very simple connection here. Once it was established 
that charges had to be brought at any cost and despite everything, 
threats, violence, tortures became inevitable. And the more fan¬ 
tastic the charges were, the more ferocious the interrogation had 
to be in order to force the required confession. Given the fact 
that the cases were always fabricated, violence and torture had 

The Interrogation \ 99 

to accompany them. This was not peculiar to 1937 alone. It was 
a chronic, general practice. And that is why it seems strange 
today to read in the recollections of former zeks that “torture was 
permitted from the spring of 1938 on.”^ There were never any 
spiritual or moral barriers which could have held the Organs 
back from torture. In the early postwar years, in the Cheka 
Weekly, The Red Sword, and Red Terror, the admissibility of 
torture from a Marxist point of view was openly debated. Judging 
by the subsequent course of events, the answer deduced was 
positive, though not universally so. 

It is more accurate to say that if before 1938 some kind of 
formal documentation was required as a preliminary to torture, 
as well as specific permission for each case under investigation 
(even though such permission was easy to obtain), then in the 
years 1937-1938, in view of the extraordinary situation prevail¬ 
ing (the specified millions of admissions to the Archipelago had 
to be ground through the apparatus of individual interrogation 
in specified, limited periods, something which had simply not 
happened in the mass waves of kulaks and nationalities), inter¬ 
rogators were allowed to use violence and torture on an unlimited 
basis, at their own discretion, and in accordance with the demands 
of their work quotas and the amount of time they were given. 
The types of torture used were not regulated and every kind of 
ingenuity was permitted, no matter what. 

In 1939 such indiscriminate authorization was withdrawn, 
and once again written permission was required for torture, and 
perhaps it may not have been so easily granted. (Of course, sim¬ 
ple threats, blackmail, deception, exhaustion through enforced 
sleeplessness, and punishment cells were never prohibited.) Then, 
from the end of the war and throughout the postwar years, certain 
categories of prisoners were established by decree for whom a 
broad range of torture was automatically permitted. Among these 
were nationalists, particularly the Ukrainians and the Lithuani¬ 
ans, especially in those cases where an underground organization 

7. Y. Ginzburg writes that permission for “physical measures of persuasion” 
was given in April, 1938. V. Shalamov believes that tortures were permitted 

from the middle of 1938 on. The old prisoner M-ch is convinced that there 

was an “order to simplify the questioning and to change from psychological 
methods to physical methods.” Ivanov-Razumnik singles out the middle of 1938 
as the “period of the most cruel interrogations.” 


existed (or was suspected) that had to be completely uncovered, 
which meant obtaining the names of everyone involved from those 
already arrested. For example, there were about fifty Lithuanians 
in the group of Romualdas Skyrius, the son of Pranus. In 1945 
they were charged with posting anti-Soviet leaflets. Because there 
weren’t enough prisons in Lithuania at the time, they sent them 
to a camp near Velsk in Archangel Province. There some were 
tortured and others simply couldn’t endure the double regime of 
work plus interrogation, with the result that all fifty, to the very 
last one, confessed. After a short time news came from Lithuania 
that the real culprits responsible for the leaflets had been dis¬ 
covered, and none of the first group had been involved at all! 
In 1950, at the Kuibyshev Transit Prison, I encountered a 
Ukrainian from Dnepropetrovsk who had been tortured many 
different ways in an effort to squeeze “contacts” and names out 
of him. Among the tortures to which he had been subjected was 
a punishment cell in which there was room only to stand. They 
shoved a pole inside for him to hold on to so that he could sleep 
—^for four hours a day. After the war, they tortured Correspond¬ 
ing Member of the Academy of Sciences Levina because she and 
the Alliluyevs had acquaintances in common. 

It would also be incorrect to ascribe to 1937 the “discovery” 
that the personal confession of an accused person was more im¬ 
portant than any other kind of proof or facts. This concept had 
already been formulated in the twenties. And 1937 was just 
the year when the brilliant teaching of Vyshinsky came into its 
own. Incidentally, even at that time, his teaching was transmitted 
only to interrogators and prosecutors—for the sake of their 
morale and steadfastness. The rest of us only learned about it 
twenty years later—when it had already come into disfavor— 
through subordinate clauses and minor paragraphs of newspaper 
articles, which treated the subject as if it had long been widely 
known to all. 

It turns out that in that terrible year Andrei Yanuaryevich 
(one longs to blurt out, “Jaguaryevich”) Vyshinsky, availing 
himself of the most flexible dialectics (of a sort nowadays not 
permitted either Soviet citizens or electronic calculators, since to 
them yes is yes and no is no), pointed out in a report which 
became famous in certain circles that it is never possible for 

The Interrogation \ 101 

mortal men to establish absolute truth, but relative truth only. 
He then proceeded to a further step, which jurists of the last two 
thousand years had not been willing to take: that the truth estab¬ 
lished by interrogation and trial could not be absolute, but only, 
so to speak, relative. Therefore, when we sign a sentence ordering 
someone to be shot we can never be absolutely certain, but only 
approximately, in view of certain hypotheses, and in a certain 
sense, that we are punishing a guilty person.^ Thence arose the 
most practical conclusion: that it was useless to seek absolute 
evidence—^for evidence is always relative—or unchallengeable 
witnesses—for they can say different things at different times. 
The proofs of guilt were relative, approximate, and the interro¬ 
gator could find them, even when there was no evidence and no 
witness, without leaving his office, “basing his conclusions not 
only on his own intellect but also on his Party sensitivity, his 
moral forces” (in other words, the superiority of someone who 
has slept well, has been well fed, and has not been beaten up) 
“and on his character” (i.e., his willingness to apply cruelty!). 

Of course, this formulation was much more elegant than 
Latsis’ instructions. But the essence of both was the same. 

In only one respect did Vyshinsky fail to be consistent and 
retreat from dialectical logic: for some reason, the executioner’s 
bullet which he allowed was not relative but absolute.. .. 

Thus it was that the conclusions of advanced Soviet jurispru¬ 
dence, proceeding in a spiral, returned to barbaric or medieval 
standards. Like medieval torturers, our interrogators, prosecutors, 
and judges agreed to accept the confession of the accused as the 
chief proof of guilt.® 

However, the simple-minded Middle Ages used dramatic and 

8. Perhaps Vyshinsky, no less than his listeners, needed this ideological com¬ 
fort at this time. When he cried out from the prosecutor’s platform: “Shoot 
them all like mad dogs!” he, at least, who was both evil and quick of mind, 
understood that the accused were innocent. And in all probability he and that 
whale of Marxist dialectics, the defendant Bukharin, devoted themselves with 
all the greater passion to the dialectical elaboration of the judicial lie: for Bu¬ 
kharin it was too stupid and futile to die if he was altogether innocent (thus he 
needed to find his own guilt!); and for Vyshinsky it was more agreeable to see 
himself as a logician than as a plain downright scoundrel. 

9. Compare the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States: 
“Nor shall [any person] be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness 
against himself.” Not be compelled! (The same thing appears in the seventeenth- 
century Bill of Rights.) 


picturesque methods to squeeze out the desired confessions: the 
rack, the wheel, the bed of nails, impalement, hot coals, etc. In 
the twentieth century, taking advantage of our more highly de¬ 
veloped medical knowledge and extensive prison experience (and 
someone seriously defended a doctoral dissertation on this 
theme), people came to realize that the accumulation of such 
impressive apparatus was superfluous and that, on a mass scale, 
it was also cumbersome. And in addition . . . 

In addition, there was evidently one other circumstance. As 
always, Stalin did not pronounce that final word, and his sub¬ 
ordinates had to guess what he wanted. Thus, like a jackal, he left 
himself an escape hole, so that he could, if he wanted, beat a 
retreat and write about “dizziness from success.” After all, for 
the first time in human history the calculated torture of millions 
was being undertaken, and, even with all his strength and power, 
Stalin could not be absolutely sure of success. In dealing with 
such an enormous mass of material, the effects of the experiment 
might differ from those obtained from a smaller sample. An un¬ 
foreseen explosion might take place, a slippage in a geological 
fault, or even world-wide disclosure. In any case, Stalin had to 
remain innocent, his sacred vestments angelically pure. 

We are therefore forced to conclude that no list of tortures 
and torments existed in printed form for the guidance of interro¬ 
gators! Instead, all that was required was for every Interrogation 
Department to supply the tribunal within a specified period with 
a stipulated number of rabbits who had confessed everything. 
And it was simply stated, orally but often, that any measures and 
means employed were good, since they were being used for a 
,lofty purpose; that no interrogator would be made to answer for 
the death of an accused; and that the prison doctor should inter¬ 
fere as little as possible with the course of the investigation. In all 
probability, they exchanged experiences in comradely fashion; 
“they learned from the most successful workers.” Then, too, 
“material rewards” were offered—higher pay for night work, 
bonus pay for fast work—and there were also definite warnings 
that interrogators who could not cope with their tasks . . . Even 
the chief of some provincial NKVD administration, if some sort 
of mess developed, could show Stalin his hands were clean: he 
had issued no direct instructions to use torture! But at the same 
time he had ensured that torture would be used! 

The Interrogation \ 103 

Understanding that their superiors were taking precautions for 
self-protection, some of the rank-and-file interrogators—^not, 
however, those who drank like maniacs—tried to start off with 
milder methods, and even when they intensified them, they tried 
to avoid those that left obvious marks: an eye gouged out, an 
ear tom off, a backbone broken, even bruises all over the body. 

That is why in 1937 we observe no general consistency of 
methods—except for enforced sleeplessness—in the administra¬ 
tions of the various provinces, or for that matter among the differ¬ 
ent interrogators of a single administration.^* 

What they did have in common, however, was that they gave 
precedence to the so-called light methods (we will see what they 
were immediately). This way was sure. Indeed, the actual bound¬ 
aries of human equilibrium are very narrow, and it is not really 
necessary to use a rack or hot coals to drive the average human 
being out of his mind. 

Let us try to list some of the simplest methods which break 
the will and the character of the prisoner without leaving marks 
on his body. 

Let us begin with psychological methods. These methods have 
enormous and even annihilating impact on rabbits who have never 
been prepared for prison suffering. And it isn’t easy even for a 
person who holds strong convictions. 

1. First of all: night. Why is it that all the main work of 
breaking down human souls went on at night? Why, from their 
very earliest years, did the Organs select the night? Because at 
night, the prisoner tom from sleep, even though he has not yet 
been tortured by sleeplessness, lacks his normal daytime equani¬ 
mity and common sense. He is more vulnerable. 

2. Persuasion in a sincere tone is the very simplest method. 
Why play at cat and mouse, so to speak? After all, having spent 
some time among others undergoing interrogation, the prisoner 
has come to see what the situation is. And so the interrogator 
says to him in a lazily friendly way: “Look, you’re going to get 
a prison term whatever happens. But if you resist, you’ll croak 
right here in prison, you’ll lose your health. But if you go to 
camp, you’ll have fresh air and sunlight. ... So why not sign 
right now?” Very logical. And those who agree and sign are 

10. It is common talk that Rostov-on-the-Don and Krasnodar were particu¬ 
larly distinguished for the cruelty of their tortures, but this has not been proved. 


smart, if ... if the matter concerns only themselves! But that’s 
rarely so. A struggle is inevitable. 

Another variant of persuasion is particularly appropriate to 
the Party member. “If there are shortages and even famine in 
the country, then you as a Bolshevik have to make up your mind: 
can you admit that the whole Party is to blame? Or the whole 
Soviet government?” “No, of course not!” the director of the 
flax depot hastened to reply. “Then be brave, and shoulder the 
blame yourself!” And he did! 

3. Foul language is not a clever method, but it can have a 
powerful impact on people who are well brought up, refined, 
delicate. I know of two cases involving priests, who capitulated 
to foul language alone. One of them, in the Butyrki in 1944, was 
being interrogated by a woman. At first when he’d come back 
to our cell he couldn’t say often enough how polite she was. But 
once he came back very despondent, and for a long time he 
refused to tell us how, with her legs crossed high, she had begun 
to curse. (I regret that I cannot cite one of her little phrases 

4. Psychological contrast was sometimes effective: sudden 
reversals of tone, for example. For a whole or part of the inter¬ 
rogation period, the interrogator would be extremely friendly, 
addressing the prisoner formally by first name and patronymic, 
and promising everything. Suddenly he would brandish a paper¬ 
weight and shout: “Foo, you rat! I’ll put nine grams of lead in 
your skull!” And he would advance on the accused, clutching 
hands outstretched as if to grab him by the hair, fingernails like 
needles. (This worked very, very well with women prisoners.) 

Or as a variation on this: two interrogators would take turns. 
One would shout and bully. The other would be friendly, almost 
gentle. Each time the accused entered the office he would tremble 
—which would it be? He wanted to do everything to please the 
gentle one because of his different manner, even to the point of 
signing and confessing to things that had never happened. 

5. Preliminary humiliation was another approach. In the 
famous cellars of the Rostov-on-the-Don GPU (House 33), 
which were lit by lenslike insets of thick glass in the sidewalk 
above the former storage basement, prisoners awaiting inter¬ 
rogation were made to lie face down for several hours in the 
main corridor and forbidden to raise their heads or make a 

The Interrogation \ 105 

sound. They lay this way, like Moslems at prayer, until the 
guard touched a shoulder and took them off to interrogation. 

Another case: At the Lubyanka, Aleksandra O-va refused 

to give the testimony demanded of her. She was transferred to 
Lefortovo. In the admitting office, a woman jailer ordered her to 
undress, allegedly for a medical examination, took away her 
clothes, and locked her in a “box” naked. At that point the men 
jailers began to peer through the peephole and to appraise her 
female attributes with loud laughs. If one were systematically to 
question former prisoners, many more such examples would 
certainly emerge. They all had but a single purpose: to dis¬ 
hearten and humiliate. 

6. Any method of inducing extreme confusion in the accused 
might be employed. Here is how F.I.V. from Krasnogorsk, Mos¬ 
cow Province, was interrogated. (This was reported by I. A. 

P-ev.) During the interrogation, the interrogator, a woman, 

undressed in front of him by stages (a striptease!), all the time 
continuing the interrogation as if nothing were going on. She 
walked about the room and came close to him and tried to get 
him to give in. Perhaps this satisfied some personal quirk in her, 
but it may also have been cold-blooded calculation, an attempt 
to get the accused so muddled that he would sign. And she was 
in no danger. She had her pistol, and she had her alarm bell. 

7. Intimidation was very widely used and very varied. It was 
often accompanied by enticement and by promises which were, of 
course, false. In 1924: “If you don’t confess, you’ll go to the 
Solovetsky Islands. Anybody who confesses is turned loose.” In 
1944: “Which camp you’ll be sent to depends on us. Camps are 
different. We’ve got hard-labor camps now. If you confess, you’ll 
go to an easy camp. If you’re stubborn, you’ll get twenty-five 
years in handcuffs in the mines!” Another form of intimidation 
was threatening a prisoner with a prison worse than the one he 
was in. “If you keep on being stubborn, we’ll send you to 
Lefortovo” (if you are in the Lubyanka), “to Sukhanovka” (if 
you are at Lefortovo). “They’ll find another way to talk to you 
there.” You have already gotten used to things where you are; 
the regimen seems to be not so bad; and what kind of torments 
await you elsewhere? Yes, and you also have to be transported 
there... . Should you give in? 

Intimidation worked beautifully on those who had not yet 


been arrested but had simply received an official summons to the 
Bolshoi Dom—the Big House. He (or she) still had a lot to lose. 
He (or she) was frightened of everything—^that they wouldn’t 
let him (or her) out today, that they would confiscate his (or 
her) belongings or apartment. He would be ready to give all 
kinds of testimony and make all kinds of concessions in order to 
avoid these dangers. She, of course, would be ignorant of the 
Criminal Code, and, at the very least, at the start of the question¬ 
ing they would push a sheet of paper in front of her wiffi a fake 
citation from the Code: “I have been warned that for giving false 
testimony ... five years of imprisonment.” (In actual fact, under 
Article 95, it is two years.) “For refusal to give testimony—^five 
years . . .” (In actual fact, under Article 92, it is up to three 
months.) Here, then, one more of the interrogator’s basic methods 
has entered the picture and will continue to re-enter it. 

8. The lie. We lambs were forbidden to lie, but the inter¬ 
rogator could tell aU the lies he felt Uke. Those articles of the law 
did not apply to him. We had even lost the yardstick with which 
to gauge: what does he get for lying? He could confront us with 
as many documents as he chose, bearing the forged signatures 
of our kinfolk and friends—and it would be just a skillful inter¬ 
rogation technique. 

Intimidation through enticement and hes was the fundamental 
method for bringing pressure on the relatives of the arrested per¬ 
son when they were called in to give testimony. “If you don’t tell 
us such and such” (whatever was being asked), “it’s going to be 
the worse for him. . . . You’ll be destroying him completely.” 
(How hard for a mother to hear that!)^^ “Signing this paper” 
(pushed in front of the relatives) “is the only way you can save 
him” (destroy him). 

9. Playing on one’s affection for those one loved was a game 
that worked beautifully on the accused as well. It was the most 
effective of all methods of intimidation. One could break even 
a totally fearless person through his concern for those he loved. 
(Oh, how foresighted was the saying: “A man’s family are his 

11. Under the harsh laws of the Tsarist Empire, close relatives could refuse 
to testify. And even if they gave testimony at a preliminary investigation, they 
could choose to repudiate it and refuse to permit it to be used in court. And, 
curiously enough, kinship or acquaintance with a criminal was never in itself 
considered evidence. 

The Interrogation \ 107 

enemies.”) Remember the Tatar who bore his sufferings—his 
own and those of his wife—^but could not endure his daughter’s! 
In 1930, Rimalis, a woman interrogator, used to threaten: “We’ll 
arrest your daughter and lock her in a cell with syphilitics!” And 
that was a woman! 

They would threaten to arrest everyone you loved. Sometimes 
this would be done with sound effects: Your wife has already 
been arrested, but her further fate depends on you. They are 
questioning her in the next room—^just listen! And through the 
wall you can actually hear a woman weeping and screaming. 
(After all, they all sound alike; you’re hearing it through a wall; 
and you’re under terrific strain and not in a state to play the 
expert on voice identification. Sometimes they simply play a 
recording of the voice of a “typical wife”—soprano or contralto 
—a labor-saving device suggested by some inventive genius.) 
And then, without fakery, they actually show her to you through 
a glass door, as she walks along in silence, her head bent in 
grief. Yes! Your own wife in the corridors of State Security! You 
have destroyed her by your stubbornness! She has already been 
arrested! (In actual fact, she has simply been summoned in 
connection with some insignificant procedural question and sent 
into the corridor at just the right moment, after being told: 
“Don’t raise your head, or you’ll be kept here!”) Or they give 
you a letter to read, and the handwriting is exactly like hers: “I 
renounce you! After the filth they have told me about you, I 
don’t need you any more!” (And since such wives do exist in 
our country, and such letters as well, you are left to ponder in 
your heart: Is that the kind of wife she really is?) 

The interrogator Goldman (in 1944) was trying to extort 
testimony against other people from V. A. Korneyeva with the 
threat: “We’ll confiscate your house and toss your old women 
into the street.” A woman of deep convictions, and firm in her 
faith, Korneyeva had no fear whatever for herself. She was pre¬ 
pared to suffer. But, given our laws, Goldman’s threats were 
all too real, and she was in torment over the fate of her loved 
ones. When, by morning, after a night of tearing up rejected 
depositions, Goldman began to write a fourth version accusing 
Korneyeva alone, she signed it happily and with a feeling of 
spiritual victory. We fail to hang on to the basic human instinct 


to prove our innocence when falsely accused. How can we 
there? We were even glad when we succeeded in taking all the 
guilt on our own shoulders. 

Just as there is no classification in nature with rigid boundar¬ 
ies, it is impossible rigidly to separate psychological methods 
from physical ones. Where, for example, should we classify the 
following amusement? 

10. Sound effects: The accused is made to stand twenty to 
twenty-five feet away and is then forced to speak more and more 
loudly and to repeat everything. This is not easy for someone 
already weakened to the point of exhaustion. Or two mega¬ 
phones are constructed of rolled-up cardboard, and two inter¬ 
rogators, coming close to the prisoner, bellow in both ears: 
“Confess, you rat!” The prisoner is deafened; sometimes he actu¬ 
ally loses his sense of hearing. But this method is uneconomical. 
The fact is that the interrogators like some diversion in their 
monotonous work, and so they vie in thinking up new ideas. 

11. Tickling: This is also a diversion. The prisoner’s arms and 
legs are bound or held down, and then the inside of his nose is 
tickled with a feather. The prisoner writhes; it feels as though 
someone were drilling into his brain. 

\2. A cigarette is put out on the accused’s skin (already 
mentioned above). 

13. Light effects involve the use of an extremely bright electric 
light in the small, white-walled cell or “box” in which the ac¬ 
cused is being held—a light which is never extinguished. (The 
electricity saved by the economies of schoolchildren and house¬ 
wives! ) Your eyelids become inflamed, which is very painful. And 
then in the interrogation room searchlights are again directed into 
your eyes. 

14. Here is another imaginative trick; On the eve of May 1, 
1933, in the Khabarovsk GPU, for twelve hours—all night— 
Chebotaryev was not interrogated, no, but was simply kept in a 
continual state of being led to interrogation. “Hey, you—hands 

12. Today she says: “After eleven years, during rehabilitation proceedings 
they let me reread those ‘depositions,* and I was gripped by a feeling of spiritual 
nausea. What was there to be proud of?” I myself, during the rehabilitation 
period, felt the very same way on hearing excerpts from my earlier depositions. 
As the saying goes: They bent me into a bow, and I became someone else. I 
did not recognize myself—how could I have signed them and still think I had 
not gotten off too badly? 

The Interrogation | 109 

behind your back!” They led him out of the cell, up the stairs 
quickly, into the interrogator’s office. The guard left. But the 
interrogator, without asking one single question, and sometimes 
without even allowing Chebotaryev to sit down, would pick up 
the telephone: “Take away the prisoner from 107!” And so they 
came to get him and took him back to his cell. No sooner had he 
lain down on his board bunk than the lock rattled: “Chebotaryev! 
To interrogation. Hands behind your back!” And when he got 
there: “Take away the prisoner from 107!” 

For that matter, the methods of bringing pressure to bear can 
begin a long time before the interrogator’s office. 

15. Prison begins with the box, in other words, what amounts 
to a closet or packing case. The human being who has just been 
taken from freedom, still in a state of inner turmoil, ready to 
explain, to argue, to struggle, is, when he first sets foot in prison, 
clapped into a “box,” which sometimes has a lamp and a place 
where he can sit down, but which sometimes is dark and con¬ 
structed in such a way that he can only stand up and even then 
is squeezed against the door. And he is held there for several 
hours, or for half a day, or a day. During those hours he knows 
absolutely nothing! Will he perhaps be confined there all his 
life? He has never in his life encountered anything like this, and 
he cannot guess at the outcome. Those first hours are passing 
when everything inside him is still ablaze from the unstilled 
storm in his heart. Some become despondent—and that’s the 
time to subject them to their first interrogation. Others become 
angry—and that, too, is all to the good, for they may insult the 
interrogator right at the start or make a slip, and it will be all the 
easier to cook up their case. 

16. When boxes were in short supply, they used to have an¬ 
other method. In the Novocherkassk NKVD, Yelena Strutin- 
skaya was forced to remain seated on a stool in the corridor for 
six days in such a way that she did not lean against anything, 
did not sleep, did not fall off, and did not get up from it. Six 
days! Just try to sit that way for six hours! 

Then again, as a variation, the prisoner can be forced to sit 
on a tall chair, of the kind used in laboratories, so that his feet 
do not reach the floor. They become very numb in this position. 
He is left sitting that way from eight to ten hours. 


Or else, during the interrogation itself, when the prisoner is 
out in plain view, he can be forced to sit in this way: as far 
forward as possible on the front edge (“Move further forward! 
Further still!”) of the chair so that he is under painful pressure 
during the entire interrogation. He is not allowed to stir for 
several hours. Is that all? Yes, that’s all. Just try it yourself! 

17. Depending on local conditions, a divisional pit can be 
substituted for the box, as was done in the Gorokhovets army 
camps during World War II. The prisoner was pushed into such 
a pit, ten feet in depth, six and a half feet in diameter; and beneath 
the open sky, rain or shine, this pit was for several days both his 
cell and his latrine. And ten and a half ounces of bread, and 
water, were lowered to him on a cord. Imagine yourself in this 
situation just after you’ve been arrested, when you’re all in a 

Either identical orders to all Special Branches of the Red 
Army or else the similarities of their situations in the field led 
to broad use of this method. Thus, in the 36th Motorized In¬ 
fantry Division, a unit which took part in the battle of Khalkhin- 
Gol, and which was encamped in the Mongolian desert in 1941, 
a newly arrested prisoner was, without explanation, given a 
spade by Chief of the Special Branch Samulyev and ordered to 
dig a pit the exact dimensions of a grave. (Here is a hybridiza¬ 
tion of physical and psychological methods.) When the prisoner 
had dug deeper than his own waist, they ordered him to stop and 
sit down on the bottom: his head was no longer visible. One 
guard kept watch over several such pits and it was as though he 
were surrounded by empty space.^® They kept the accused in this 
desert with no protection from the Mongolian sun and with no 
warm clothing against the cold of the night, but no tortures— 
why waste effort on tortures? The ration they gave was three and 
a half ounces of bread per day and one glass of water. Lieutenant 
Chulpenyev, a giant, a boxer, twenty-one years old, spent a 
month imprisoned this way. Within ten days he was swarming 
with lice. After fifteen days he was summoned to interrogation 
for the first time. 

13. This, evidently, is a Mongolian theme. In the magazine Niva (March 15, 
1914, p. 218) there is a drawing of a Mongolian prison: each prisoner is shut 
in a separate trunk with a small opening for his head or for food. A jailer 
patrols between the trunks. 

The Interrogation \ 111 

18. The accused could be compelled to stand on his knees — 
not in some figurative sense, but literally: on his knees, without 
sitting back on his heels, and with his back upright. People 
could be compelled to kneel in the interrogator’s office or the 
corridor for twelve, or even twenty-four or forty-eight hours. 
(The interrogator himself could go home, sleep, amuse himself 
in one way or another—this was an organized system; watch was 
kept over the kneeling prisoner, and the guards worked in 
shifts.)^* What kind of prisoner was most vulnerable to such 
treatment? One already broken, already inclined to surrender. 
It was also a good method to use with women. Ivanov-Razumnik 
reports a variation of it: Having set young Lordkipanidze on his 
knees, the interrogator urinated in his face! And what happened? 
Unbroken by anything else, Lordkipanidze was broken by this. 
Which shows that the method also worked well on proud 
people. . . . 

19. Then there is the method of simply compelling a prisoner 
to stand there. This can be arranged so that the accused stands 
only while being interrogated—^because that, too, exhausts and 
breaks a person down. It can be set up in another way—so that 
the prisoner sits down during interrogation but is forced to stand 
up between interrogations. (A watch is set over him, and the 
guards see to it that he doesn’t lean against the wall, and if he 
goes to sleep and falls over he is given a kick and straightened 
up.) Sometimes even one day of standing is enough to deprive 
a person of all his strength and to force him to testify to anything 
at all. 

20. During all these tortures which involved standing for 
three, four, and five days, they ordinarily deprived a person of 

The most natural thing of all is to combine the psychological 
and physical methods. It is also natural to combine all the pre¬ 
ceding methods with: 

21. Sleeplessness, which they quite failed to appreciate in 
medieval times. They did not understand how narrow are the 
limits within which a human being can preserve his personality 

14. That, after all, is how somebody’s career was launched—standing guard 
over a prisoner on his knees. And now, in all probability, that somebody has 
attained high rank and his children are already grown up. 


intact. Sleeplessness (yes, combined with standing, thirst, bright 
light, terror, and the unknown—^what other tortures are 
needed!?) befogs the reason, undermines the will, and the human 
being ceases to be himself, to be his own “I.” (As in Chekhov’s 
“I Want to Sleep,” but there it was much easier, for there the girl 
could lie down and slip into lapses of consciousness, which even in 
just a minute would revive and refresh the brain.) A person 
deprived of sleep acts half-unconsciously or altogether uncon¬ 
sciously, so that his testimony cannot be held against him.^® 

They used to say: “You are not truthful in your testimony, 
and therefore you will not be allowed to sleep!” Sometimes, as 
a refinement, instead of making the prisoner stand up, they made 
him sit down on a soft sofa, which made him want to sleep all 
the more. (The jailer on duty sat next to him on the same sofa 
and kicked him every time his eyes began to shut.) Here is how 
one victim—^who had just sat out days in a box infested with 
bedbugs—describes his feelings after this torture: “Chill from 
great loss of blood. Irises of the eyes dried out as if someone 
were holding a red-hot iron in front of them. Tongue swollen 
from thirst and prickling as from a hedgehog at the slightest 
movement. Throat racked by spasms of swallowing.”^® 

Sleeplessness was a great form of torture: it left no visible 
marks and could not provide grounds for complaint even if an 
inspection—something unheard of anyway—^were to strike on 
the morrow.^'^ 

“They didn’t let you sleep? Well, after all, this is not supposed 
to be a vacation resort. The Security officials were awake too!” 
(They would catch up on their sleep during the day.) One can 
say that sleeplessness became the universal method in the Organs. 
From being one among many tortures, it became an integral 
part of the system of State Security; it was the cheapest possible 

15. Just picture a foreigner, who knows no Russian, in this muddled state, being 
given something to sign. Under these conditions the Bavarian Jupp Aschen- 
brenner signed a document admitting that he had worked on wartime gas vans. 
It was not until 1954, in camp, that he was finally able to prove that at the time 
he had been in Munich, studying to become an electric welder. 

16. G. M-ch. 

17. Inspection, by the way, was so totally impossible and had so emphatically 
never taken place that in 1953, when real inspectors entered the cell of former 
Minister of State Security Abakumov, himself a prisoner by that time, he roared 
with laughter, thinking their appearance was a trick intended to confuse him. 

The Interrogation \ 113 

method and did not require the posting of sentries. In all the 
interrogation prisons the prisoners were forbidden to sleep even 
one minute from reveille till taps. (In Sukhanovka and several 
other prisons used specifically for interrogation, the cot was 
folded into the wall during the day; in others, the prisoners were 
simply forbidden to lie down, and even to close their eyes while 
seated.) Since the major interrogations were all conducted at 
night, it was automatic: whoever was undergoing interrogation 
got no sleep for at least five days and nights. (Saturday and Sun¬ 
day nights, the interrogators themselves tried to get some rest.) 

22. The above method was further implemented by an as¬ 
sembly line of interrogators. Not only were you not allowed to 
sleep, but for three or four days shifts of interrogators kept up a 
continuous interrogation. 

23. The bedbug-infested box has already been mentioned. In 
the dark closet made of wooden planks, there were hundreds, 
maybe even thousands, of bedbugs, which had been allowed to 
multiply. The guards removed the prisoner’s jacket or field 
shirt, and immediately the hungry bedbugs assaulted him, crawl¬ 
ing onto him from the walls or falling off the ceiling. At first he 
waged war with them strenuously, crushing them on his body 
and on the walls, suffocated by their stink. But after several 
hours he weakened and let them drink his blood without a 

24. Punishment cells. No matter how hard it was in the 
ordinary cell, the punishment cells were always worse. And on 
return from there the ordinary cell always seemed like paradise. 
In the punishment cell a human being was systematically worn 
down by starvation and also, usually, by cold. (In Sukhanovka 
Prison there were also hot punishment cells.) For example, the 
Lefortovo punishment cells were entirely unheated. There were 
radiators in the corridor only, and in this “heated” corridor the 
guards on duty walked in felt boots and padded jackets. The 
prisoner was forced to undress down to his underwear, and 
sometimes to his undershorts, and he was forced to spend from 
three to five days in the punishment cell without moving (since 
it was so confining). He received hot gruel on the third day only. 
For the first few minutes you were convinced you’d not be able 
to last an hour. But, by some miracle, a human being would in- 


deed sit out his five days, perhaps acquiring in the course of it 
an illness that would last him the rest of his life. 

There were various aspects to punishment cells—as, for in¬ 
stance, dampness and water. In the Chernovtsy Prison after the 
war, Masha G. was kept barefooted for two hours and up to her 
ankles in icy water—confess! (She was eighteen years old, and 
how she feared for her feet! She was going to have to live with 
them a long time.) 

25. Should one consider it a variation of the punishment cell 
when a prisoner was locked in an alcove? As long ago as 1933 
this was one of the ways they tortured S. A. Chebotaryev in the 
Khabarovsk GPU. They locked him naked in a concrete alcove 
in such a way that he could neither bend his knees, nor straighten 
up and change the position of his arms, nor turn his head. And 
that was not all! They began to drip cold water onto his scalp— 
a classic torture—which then ran down his body in rivulets. 
They did not inform him, of course, that this would go on for 
only twenty-four hours. It was awful enough at any rate for him 
to lose consciousness, and he was discovered the next day ap¬ 
parently dead. He came to on a hospital cot. They had brought 
him out of his faint with spirits of ammonia, caffeine, and body 
massage. At first he had no recollection of where he had been, 
or what had happened. For a whole month he was useless even 
for interrogation. (We may be so bold as to assume that this 
alcove and dripping device had not been devised for Chebotaryev 
alone. In 1949 my Dnepropetrovsk acquaintance had been 
similarly confined, without the dripping attachment, however. 
On a line joining Khabarovsk and Dnepropetrovsk, and over a 
period of sixteen years, were there not other such points as 

26. Starvation has already been mentioned in combination 
with other methods. Nor was it an unusual method: to starve the 
prisoner into confession. Actually, the starvation technique, like 
interrogation at night, was an integral element in the entire 
system of coercion. The miserly prison bread ration, amounting 
to ten and a half ounces in the peacetime year of 1933, and to 
one pound in 1945 in the Lubyanka, and permitting or pro¬ 
hibiting food parcels from one’s family and access to the commis¬ 
sary, were universally applied to everyone. But there was also 

The Interrogation | 115 

the technique of intensified hunger: for example, Chulpenyev 
was kept for a month on three and a half ounces of bread, after 
which—when he had just been brought in from the pit—the 
interrogator Sokol placed in front of him a pot of thick borscht, 
and half a loaf of white bread sliced diagonally. (What does it 
matter, one might ask, how it was sliced? But Chulpenyev even 
today will insist that it was really sliced very attractively.) How¬ 
ever, he was not given a thing to eat. How ancient it all is, how 
medieval, how primitive! The only thing new about it was that 
it was applied in a socialist society! Others, too, tell about such 
tricks. They were often tried. But we are going to cite another 
case involving Chebotaryev because it combined so many 
methods. They put him in the interrogator’s office for seventy- 
two hours, and the only thing he was allowed was to be taken to 
the toilet. For the rest, they allowed him neither food nor drink 
—even though there was water in a carafe right next to him. Nor 
was he permitted to sleep. Throughout there were three inter¬ 
rogators in the office, working in shifts. One kept writing some¬ 
thing—silently, without disturbing the prisoner. The second 
slept on the sofa, and the third walked around the room, and as 
soon as Chebotaryev fell asleep, beat him instantly. Then they 
switched roles. (Maybe they themselves were being punished 
for failure to deliver.) And then, all of a sudden, they brought 
Chebotaryev a meal: fat Ukrainian borscht, a chop, fried pota¬ 
toes, and red wine in a crystal carafe. But because Chebotaryev 
had had an aversion to alcohol all his life, he refused to drink the 
wine, and the interrogator couldn’t go too far in forcing him to, 
because that would have spoiled the whole game. After he had 
eaten, they said to him: “Now here’s what you have testified to 
in the presence of two witnesses. Sign here.” In other words, he 
was to sign what had been silently composed by one interrogator 
in the presence of another, who had been asleep, and a third, 
who had been actively working. On the very first page Che¬ 
botaryev learned he had been on intimate terms with all the 
leading Japanese generals and that he had received espionage 
assignments from all of them. He began to cross out whole pages. 
They beat him up and threw him out. Blaginin, another Chinese 
Eastern Railroad man, arrested with him, was put through the 
same thing; but he drank the wine and, in a state of pleasant 


intoxication, signed the confession—and was shot. (Even one 
tiny glass can have an enormous effect on a famished man—and 
that was a whole carafe.) 

27. Beatings —of a kind that leave no marks. They use rubber 
truncheons, and they use wooden mallets and small sandbags. It 
is very, very painful when they hit a bone—^for example, an 
interrogator’s jackboot on the shin, where the bone lies just 
beneath the sWn. They beat Brigade Commander Karpunich- 
Braven for twenty-one days in a row. And today he says: “Even 
after thirty years all my bones ache—and my head too.” In 
recollecting his own experience and the stories of others, he 
counts up to fifty-two methods of torture. Here is one: They 
grip the hand in a special vise so that the prisoner’s palm lies 
flat on the desk—and then they hit the joints with the thin edge 
of a ruler. And one screams! Should we single out particularly 
the technique by which teeth are knocked out? They knocked 
out eight of Karpunich’s.^® 

As everyone knows, a blow of the fist in the solar plexus, 
catching the victim in the middle of a breath, leaves no mark 
whatever. The Lefortovo Colonel Sidorov, in the postwar period, 
used to take a “penalty kick” with his overshoes at the dangling 
genitals of male prisoners. Soccer players who at one time or 
another have been hit in the groin by a ball know what that kind 
of blow is like. There is no pain comparable to it, and ordinarily 
the recipient loses consciousness.^® 

28. In the Novorossisk NKVD they invented a machine for 
squeezing fingernails. As a result it could be observed later at 
transit prisons that many of those from Novorossisk had lost 
their fingernails. 

29. And what about the strait jacket? 

30. And breaking the prisoner’s back? (As in that same Kha¬ 
barovsk GPU in 1933.) 

18. In the case of the Secretary of the Karelian Provincial Party Committee, 
G. Kupriyanov, arrested in 1949, some of the teeth they knocked out were just 
ordinary ones, of no particular account, but others were gold. At first they 
gave him a receipt that said his gold teeth were being kept for him. And then 
they caught themselves just in time and took away his receipt. 

19. In 1918 the Moscow Revolutionary Tribunal convicted the former Tsarist 
jailer Bondar. The most extreme measure of his cruelty that was cited was the 
accusation that “in one case he had struck a political prisoner with such force 
that his eardrum had burst.” (Krylenko, op, cit., p. 16.) 

The Interrogation \ 117 

31. Or bridling (also known as “the swan dive”)? This was 
a Sukhanovka method—also used in Archangel, where the in¬ 
terrogator Ivkov applied it in 1940. A long piece of rough 
toweling was inserted between the prisoner’s jaws like a bridle; 
the ends were then pulled back over his shoulders and tied to his 
heels. Just try lying on your stomach like a wheel, with your 
spine breaking—and without water and food for two days!^® 

Is it necessary to go on with the list? Is there much left to 
enumerate? What won’t idle, well-fed, unfeeling people invent? 

Brother mine! Do not condemn those who, finding themselves 
in such a situation, turned out to be weak and confessed to more 
than they should have. ... Do not be the first to cast a stone 
at them. 

But here’s the point! Neither these methods nor even the 
“lightest” methods of all are needed to wring testimony from the 
majority ... for iron jaws to grip lambs who are unprepared 
and longing to return to their warm hearths. The relationship of 
forces to situations is too unequal. 

Oh, in how new a light does our past life appear when re¬ 
examined in the interrogator’s office: abounding in dangers, like 
an African jungle. And we had considered it so simple! 

You, A, and your friend, B, have known each other for years 
and have complete faith in one another. When you met, you 
spoke out boldly about political matters large and small. No one 
else was present. There was no one who could have overheard 
you. And you have not denounced each other—not at all. 

But at this point, for some reason, you. A, have been marked, 
hauled out of the herd by the ears, and arrested. And for some 
reason—well, maybe not without a denunciation on somebody’s 
part, and not without your apprehensions as to the fate of your 
loved ones, and not without a certain lack of sleep, and not with¬ 
out a bit of punishment cell—you have decided to write yourself 
off but at the same time not to betray anyone else at any price. 

You have therefore confessed in four depositions, and signed 
them—declaring yourself to be a sworn enemy of Soviet power 

20. N.K.G. 


—^because you used to tell jokes about the Leader, because you 
thought there should be a choice of candidates at elections, be¬ 
cause you went into the voting booth only in order to cross out 
the name of the only candidate and would have done so except 
there was no ink in the inkwell, and because there was a 16- 
meter band on your radio on which you tried to catch parts of 
Western broadcasts through the jamming. Your own tenner has 
been assured, yet your ribs have remained whole, and so far 
you have not caught pneumonia. You have not sold anyone out; 
and it seems to you’ that you have worked things out sensibly. 
You have already informed your cellmates that in your opinion 
your interrogation is probably coming to an end. 

But lo and behold! Admiring his own handwriting, and with 
deliberation^ the interrogator begins to fill out deposition No. 5. 
Question: Were you friendly with B? Answer: Yes. Question: 
Were you frank with him about politics? Answer: No, no, I did 
not trust him. Question: But you met often? Answer: Not very. 
Question: What does that mean, not very? According to testi¬ 
mony from your neighbors, he was at your house on such and 
such a day, and on such and such, and on such and such just 
in the past month. Was he? Answer: Maybe. Question: And it 
was observed that on these occasions, as always, you did not 
drink, you did not make any noise, you spoke very quietly, and 
you couldn’t be overheard even in the corridor? (Well, friends, 
drink up! Break bottles! Curse at the top of your lungs! On that 
basis you will be considered reliable.) Answer: Well, what of 
it? Question: And you used to visit him too. And you said to him 
on the phone, for example: “We spent such an interesting even¬ 
ing.” Then they saw you on the street at an intersection. You 
were standing there together in the cold for half an hour, and 
you both had gloomy faces and dissatisfied expressions; in fact, 
they even took photographs of you during that meeting. (The 
technological resources of agents, my friends, the technology of 
agents!) So what did you talk about during these meetings? 

What about? That’s a leading question! Your first idea is to 
say that you’ve forgotten what you talked about. Are you really 
obliged to remember? So! You’ve forgotten your first conversa¬ 
tion. And the second one too? And the third? And even your 
interesting evening? And that time at the intersection? And your 

The Interrogation | 119 

conversations with C? And your conversations with D? No, you 
think: “I forgot” is not the way out; you will be unable to 
maintain that position. And your mind, stiU shocked by your 
arrest, in the grip of fear, muddled by sleeplessness and htmger, 
seeks a way out: how to play it shrewdly in a manner that will 
have some verisimilitude and outsmart the interrogator. 

What, about? It is fine if you talked about hockey—that, 
friends, is in all cases the least troublesome! Or about women, 
or even about science. Then you can repeat what was said. 
(Science is not too far removed from hockey, but in our time 
everything to do with science is classified information and they 
may get you for a violation of the Decree on ReveaUng State 
Secrets.) But what if you did in actual fact talk about the latest 
arrests in the city? Or about the collective farms? (Of course, 
critically—^for who has anything good to say about them?) Or 
about reducing the rate of pay for piecework? The fact remains 
that you frowned for half an hour at the intersection—^what 
were you talking about there? 

Maybe B has already been arrested. The interrogator assures 
you that he has been, and that he has already given evidence 
against you, and that they are about to bring him in for a con¬ 
frontation with you. Maybe he is sitting home very calmly and 
quietly, but they might very well bring him in for questioning 
and then they will find out from him what you were frowning 
about for half an hour at that intersection. 

At this point, too late, you have come to understand that, 
because of the way fife is, you and he ought to have reached an 
agreement every time you parted and remembered clearly what 
you were going to say if you were asked what you had talked 
about that day) Then, regardless of interrogations, your testi¬ 
mony and his would agree. But you had not made any such 
agreement. You had unfortunately not understood what kind of 
a jungle you lived in. 

Should you say that you were talking about going on a fishing 
trip? But then B might say that there was never any discussion 
of fishing, that you talked about correspondence-school courses. 
In that case, instead of causing the investigation to ease up a 
bit, you would only tie the noose tighter: what about, what 
about, what about? 


And the idea flashes through your mind—^is it a brilliant or 
a fatal one?—that you ought to come as close as you can to the 
truth of what was actually said—of course rounding off the 
sharp edges and skipping the dangerous parts. After all, people 
say that when you lie you should always stay as close to the 
truth as possible. And maybe B will guess what’s up and say 
approximately the same thing and then your testimony will 
coincide in some respects and they will leave you in peace. 

Many years later you will come to understand that this was 
not really a wise idea, and that it is much smarter to play the 
role of someone so improbably imbecile that he can’t remember 
one single day of his life even at the risk of being beaten. But you 
have been kept awake for three days. You have hardly strength 
enough to follow the course of your own thoughts and to main¬ 
tain an imperturbable expression. And you don’t have even a 
minute to think things over. Suddenly two interrogators—^for 
they enjoy visiting one another—are at you: What were you 
talking about? What about? What about? 

And you testify: We were talking about collective farms—to 
the effect that not everything had as yet been set to rights on 
them but it soon would be. We talked about the lowering of 
piece rates. . . . And what in particular did you say about them? 
That you were delighted they had been reduced? But that wasn’t 
the way people normally talked—^it was too implausible. And so 
as to make it seem an altogether believable conversation, you 
concede that you complained just a little that they were putting 
on the squeeze a bit with piece rates. 

The interrogator writes down the deposition himself, translat¬ 
ing it into his own language: At this meeting we slandered Party 
and government policy in the field of wages. 

And someday B is going to accuse you: “Oh, you blabber¬ 
mouth, and I said we were making plans to go fishing.” 

But you tried to outsmart your interrogator! You have a quick, 
abstruse mind. You are an intellectual! And you outsmarted 
yourself. . . . 

In Crime and Punishment, Porfiri Petrovich maizes a surpris¬ 
ingly astute remark to Raskolnikov, to the effect that he could 
have been found out only by someone who had himself gone 
through that same cat-and-mouse game—implying, so to speak: 
“I don’t even have to construct my own version with you intel- 

The Interrogation \ 121 

lectuals. You will put it together yourselves and bring it to me 
all wrapped up.” Yes, that’s so! An intellectual cannot reply 
with the delightful incoherence of Chekhov’s “Malefactor.” He 
is bound to try to build up in logical form the whole story he is 
being accused of, no matter how much falsehood it contains. 

But the interrogator-butcher isn’t interested in logic; he 
just wants to catch two or three phrases. He knows what he 
wants. And as for us—we are totally unprepared for an)dhing. 

From childhood on we are educated and trained—^for our 
own profession; for our civil duties; for military service; to take 
care of our bodily needs; to behave well; even to appreciate 
beauty (well, this last not really all that much!). But neither our 
education, nor our upbringing, nor our experience prepares us 
in the slightest for the greatest trial of our lives: being arrested 
for nothing and interrogated about nothing. Novels, plays, films 
(their authors should themselves be forced to drink the cup of 
Gulag to the bottom!) depict the types one meets in the offices 
of interrogators as chivalrous guardians of truth and humani- 
tarianism, as our loving fathers. We are exposed to lectures on 
everything under the sun—and are even herded in to listen to 
them. But no one is going to lecture to us about the true and 
extended significance of the Criminal Code; and the codes them¬ 
selves are not on open shelves in our libraries, nor sold at news¬ 
stands; nor do they fall into the hands of the heedless young. 

It seems a virtual fairy tale that somewhere, at the ends of 
the earth, an accused person can avail himself of a lawyer’s help. 
This means having beside you in the most difficult moment of 
your life a clear-minded ally who knows the law. 

The principle of our interrogation consists further in depriv¬ 
ing the accused of even a knowledge of the law. 

An indictment is presented. And here, incidentally, is how 
it’s presented: “Sign it.” “It’s not true.” “Sign.” “But I’m not 
guilty of anything!” It turns out that you are being indicted 
under the provisions of Articles 58-10, Part 2, and 58-11 of the 
Criminal Code of the Russian Republic. “Sign!” “But what do 
these sections say? Let me read the Code!” “I don’t have it.” 
“Well, get it from your department head!” “He doesn’t have it 
either. Sign!” “But I want to see it.” “You are not supposed to 
see it. It isn’t written for you but for us. You don’t need it. I’ll 
tell you what it says: these sections spell out exactly what you 


are guilty of. And anjrway, at this point your signature doesn’t 
mean that you agree with the indictment but that you’ve read it, 
that it’s been presented to you.” 

All of a sudden, a new combination of letters, UPK, flashes 
by on one of the pieces of paper. Your sense of caution is 
aroused. What’s the difference between the UPK and the UK— 
the Criminal Code? If you’ve been lucky enough to catch the 
interrogator when he is in a good mood, he will explain it to 
you: the UPK is the Code of Criminal Procedure. What? This 
means that there are two distinct codes, not just one, of whose 
contents you are completely ignorant even as you are being 
trampled under their provisions. 

Since that time ten years have passed; then fifteen. The grass 
has grown thick over the grave of my youth. I served out my 
term and even “eternal exile” as well. And nowhere—^neither in 
the “cultural education” sections of the camps, nor in district 
libraries, nor even in medium-sized cities, have I seen with my 
own eyes, held in my own hands, been able to buy, obtain, or 
even ask for the Code of Soviet law!^^ 

And of the hundreds of prisoners I knew who had gone 
through interrogation and trial, and more than once too, who 
had served sentences in camp and in exile, none had ever seen 
the Code or held it in his hand! 

It was only when both codes were thirty-five years old and on 
the point of being replaced by new ones that I saw them, two 
little paperback brothers, the UK or Criminal Code, and the 
UPK or Code of Criminal Procedure, on a newsstand in the 
Moscow subway (because they were outdated, it had been de¬ 
cided to release them for general circulation). 

I read them today touched with emotion. For example, the 
UPK—^the Code of Criminal Procedure: 

“Article 136: The interrogator does not have the right to 
extract testimony or a confession from an accused by means of 
compulsion and threats.” (It was as though they had foreseen 

21. Those familiar with our atmosphere of suspicion will understand why it 
was impossible to ask for the Code in a people’s court or in the District Execu¬ 
tive Committee. Your interest in the Code would be an extraordinary phenome¬ 
non: you must either be preparing to commit a crime or be trying to cover your 

The Interrogation | 123 

“Article Ill: The interrogator is obliged to establish clearly 
all the relevant facts, both those tending toward acquittal and 
any which might lessen the accused’s measure of guilt.” 

But it was I who helped establish Soviet power in October! 
It was I who shot Kolchak! I took part in the dispossession of 
the kulaks! I saved the state ten million rubles in lowered pro¬ 
duction costs! I was wounded twice in the war! I have three 
orders and decorations. 

“You’re not being tried for that!” History ... the bared teeth of 
the interrogator: “Whatever good you may have done has noth¬ 
ing to do with the case.” 

“Article 139: The accused has the right to set forth his testi¬ 
mony in his own hand, and to demand the right to make correc¬ 
tions in the deposition written by the interrogator.” 

Oh, if we had only known that in time! But what I should 
say is: If that were only the way it really was! We were always 
vainly imploring the interrogator not to write “my repulsive, 
slanderous fabrications” instead of “my mistaken statements,” or 
not to write “our underground weapons arsenal” instead of “my 
rusty Finnish knife.” 

If only the defendants had first been taught some prison 
science! If only interrogation had been run through first in re¬ 
hearsal, and only afterward for real. . . . They didn’t, after all, 
play that interrogation game with the second-termers of 1948: 
it would have gotten them nowhere. But newcomers had no ex¬ 
perience, no knowledge! And there was no one from whom to 
seek advice. 

The loneliness of the accused! That was one more factor in 
the success of unjust interrogation! The entire apparatus threw 
its full weight on one lonely and inhibited will. From the moment 
of his arrest and throughout the entire shock period of the inter¬ 
rogation the prisoner was, ideally, to be kept entirely alone. In 
his cell, in the corridor, on the stairs, in the offices, he was not 
supposed to encounter others like himself, in order to avoid the 
risk of his gleaning a bit of sympathy, advice, support from 
someone’s smile or glance. The Organs did everything to blot out 
for him his future and distort his present: to lead him to believe 
that his friends and family had all been arrested and that material 
proof of his guilt had been found. It was their habit to exagger- 


ate their power to destroy him and those he loved as well as 
their authority to pardon (which the Organs didn’t even have). 
They pretended that there was some connection between the 
sincerity of a prisoner’s “repentance” and a reduction in his sen¬ 
tence or an easing of the camp regimen. (No such connection ever 
existed.) While the prisoner was still in a state of shock and tor¬ 
ment and totally beside himself, they tried to get from him very 
quickly as many irreparably damaging items of evidence as pos¬ 
sible and to implicate with him as many totally innocent persons 
as possible. Some defendants became so depressed in these circum¬ 
stances that they even asked not to have the depositions read to 
them. They could not stand hearing them. They asked merely 
to be allowed to sign them, just to sign and get it over with. 
Only after all this was over would the prisoner be released from 
solitary into a large cell, where, in belated desperation, he would 
discover and count over his mistakes one by one. 

How was it possible not to make mistakes in such a duel? Who 
could have failed to make a mistake? 

We said that “ideally he was to be kept alone.” However, in the 
overcrowded prisons of 1937, and, for that matter, of 1945 as 
well, this ideal of solitary confinement for a newly arrested de¬ 
fendant could not be attained. Almost from his first hours, the 
prisoner was in fact in a terribly overcrowded common cell. 

But there were virtues to this arrangement, too, which more 
than made up for its flaws. The overcrowding of the cells not only 
took the place of the tightly confined solitary “box” but also as¬ 
sumed the character of a first-class torture in itself . . . one that 
was particularly useful because it continued for whole days and 
weeks—^with no effort on the part of the interrogators. The 
prisoners tortured the prisoners! The jailers pushed so many 
prisoners into the cell that not every one had even a piece of floor; 
some were sitting on others’ feet, and people walked on people 
and couldn’t even move about at all. Thus, in the Kishinev KPZ’s 
—Cells for Preliminary Detention—^in 1945, they pushed eigh¬ 
teen prisoners into a cell designed for the solitary confinement 
of one person; in Lugansk in 1937 it was fifteen.^^ And in 1938 

22. And the interrogation there lasted eight to ten months at a time. “Maybe 
Klim [Voroshilov] had one of these to himself,” said the fellows there. (Was 
he, in fact, ever imprisoned?) 

The Interrogation \ 125 

Ivanov-Razumnik found one hundred forty prisoners in a standard 
Butyrki cell intended for twenty-five—with toilets so overbur¬ 
dened that prisoners were taken to the toilet only once a day, 
sometimes at night; and the same thing was true of their outdoor 
walk as well.^® It was Ivanov-Razumnik who in the Lubyanka 
reception “kennel” calculated that for weeks at a time there were 
three persons for each square yard of floor space (just as an 
experiment, try to fit three people into that space!) In this “ken¬ 
nel” there was neither ventilation nor a window, and the prison¬ 
ers’ body heat and breathing raised the temperature to 40 or 45 
degrees Centigrade—104 to 113 degrees Falurenheit—and every¬ 
one sat there in undershorts with their winter clothing piled 
beneath them. Their naked bodies were pressed against one an¬ 
other, and they got eczema from one another’s sweat. They sat 
like that for weeks at a time, and were given neither fresh air nor 
water—except for gruel and tea in the morning.*® 

And if at the same time the latrine bucket replaced all other 
types of toilet (or if, on the other hand, there was no latrine 
bucket for use between trips to an outside toilet, as was the case 
in several Siberian prisons); and if four people ate from one 
bowl, sitting on each other’s knees; and if someone was hauled 
out for interrogation, and then someone else was pushed in 
beaten up, sleepless, and broken; and if the appearance of such 
broken men was more persuasive than any threats on the part of 
the interrogators; and if, by then, death and any camp whatever 
seemed easier to a prisoner who had been left unsummoned for 
months than his tormented current situation—^perhaps this really 

23. That same year in the Butyrki, those newly arrested, who had already 
been processed through the bath and the boxes, sat on the stairs for several days 
at a stretch, waiting for departing prisoner transports to leave and release space 

in the cells. T-^v had been imprisoned in the Butyrki seven years earlier, in 

1931, and says that it was overcrowded under the bunks and that prisoners lay 
on the asphalt floor. I myself was imprisoned seven years later, in 1945, and 
it was just the same. But recently I received from M. K. B—^—ch valuable 
personal testimony about overcrowding in the Butyrki in 1918. In October of 
that year—during the second month of the Red Terror—it was so full that they 
even set up a cell for seventy women in the laundry. When, then, was the 
Butyrki not crowded? 

24. But this, too, is no miracle: in the Vladimir Internal Prison in 1948, 
thirty people had to stand in a cell ten feet by ten feet in size! (S. Potapov.) 

25. By and large there is a good deal in Ivanov-Razumnik’s book that is 
superficial and personal, and there are many exhaustingly monotonous jokes. 
But the real life of the cells in the 1937-1938 period is very well described 


did replace the theoretically ideal isolation in solitary. And you 
could not always decide in such a porridge of people with whom 
to be forthright; and you could not always find someone from 
whom to seek advice. And you would believe in the tortures and 
beatings not when the interrogator threatened you with them but 
when you saw their results on other prisoners. 

You could learn from those who had suffered that they could 
give you a salt-water douche in the throat and then leave you in 
a box for a day tormented by thirst (Karpunich). Or that they 
might scrape the skin off a man’s back with a grater till it bled 
and then oil it with turpentine. (Brigade Commander Rudolf 
Pintsov underwent both treatments. In addition, they pushed 
needles under his nails, and poured water into him to the bursting 
point—demanding that he confess to having wanted to turn his 
brigade of tanks against the government during the November 
parade.)^* And from Aleksandrov, the former head of the Arts 
Section of the All-Union Society for Cultural Relations with 
Foreign Countries, who has a broken spinal column which tilts 
to one side, and who cannot control his tear ducts and thus cannot 
stop crying, one can learn how Abakumov himself could beat—in 

Yes, yes. Minister of State Security Abakumov himself did not 
by any means spurn such menial labor. (A Suvorov at the head 
of his troops!) He was not averse to taking a rubber truncheon in 
his hands every once in a while. And his deputy Ryumin was even 
more willing. He did this at Sukhanovka in the “Generals’ ” inter¬ 
rogation office. The office had imitation-walnut paneling on the 
walls, silk portieres at the windows and doors, and a great Persian 
carpet on the floor. In order not to spoil all this beauty, a dirty run¬ 
ner bespattered with blood was roll^ out on top of the carpet when 
a prisoner was being beaten. When Ryumin was doing the beat¬ 
ing, he was assisted not by some ordinary guard but by a colonel. 
“And so,” said Ryumin politely, stroking his rubber truncheon, 
which was four centimeters—an inch and a half—^thick, “you 
have survived trial by sleeplessness with honor.” (Alexander D. 

26. In actual fact, he did lead his brigade at the parade, but for some reason 
he did not turn it against the government. But this was not taken into account. 
However, after these most varied tortures, he was sentenced to ten years by 
the OSO. To that degree, the gendarmes themselves had no faith in their achieve¬ 

The Interrogation \ 127 

had cleverly managed to last a month “without sleep” by sleeping 
while he was standing up.) “So now we will try the club. Prisoners 
can’t take more than two or three sessions of this. Let down your 
trousers and lie down on the runner.” The colonel sat down on 
the prisoner’s back. A.D. was going to count the blows. He didn’t 
yet know about a blow from a rubber truncheon on the sciatic 
nerve when the buttocks have disappeared as a consequence of 
prolonged starvation. The effect is not felt in the place where the 
blow is delivered—it explodes inside the head. After the first blow 
the victim was mad with pain and broke his nails on the carpet. 
Ryumin beat away, trying to hit accurately. The colonel pressed 
down on A.D.’s torso—this was just the right sort of work for 
three big shoulder-board stars, assisting the all-powerful Ryumin! 
(After the beating the prisoner could not walk and, of course, was 
not carried. They just dragged him along the floor. What was left 
of his buttocks was soon so swollen that he could not button his 
trousers, and yet there were practically no scars. He was hit by a 
violent case of diarrhea, and, sitting there on the latrine bucket 
in solitary, A.D. guffawed. He went through a second and a third 
session, and his skin cracked, and Ryumin went wild, and started 
to beat him on the stomach, breaking through the intestinal wall 
and creating an enormous hernia through which A.D.’s intestines 
protruded. The prisoner was taken off to the Futyrki hospital 
with a case of peritonitis, and for the time being their attempts to 
compel him to commit a foul deed were suspended.) 

Ibat is how they can torture you too! After that it could seem a 
simple fatherly caress when the Kishinev interrogator Danilov 
beat Father Viktor Shipovalnikov across the back of the head 
with a poker and pulled him by his long hair. (It is very conven¬ 
ient to drag a priest around in that fashion; ordinary laymen can 
be dragged by the beard from one corner of the office to the 
other. And Richard Ohola—a Finnish Red Guard, and a partici¬ 
pant in the capture of British agent Sidney Reilly, and com¬ 
mander of a company during the suppression of the Kronstadt 
revolt—^was lifted up with pliers first by one end of his great 
mustaches and then by the other, and held for ten minutes with 
his feet off the floor.) 

But the most awful thing they can do with you is this: undress 
you from the waist down, place you on your back on the floor. 


pull your legs apart, seat assistants on them (from the glorious 
corps of sergeants!) who also hold down your arms; and then the 
interrogator (and women interrogators have not shrunk from 
this) stands between your legs and with the toe of his boot (or 
of her shoe) gradually, steadily, and with ever greater pressure 
crushes against the floor those organs which once made you a 
man. He looks into your eyes and repeats and repeats his ques¬ 
tions or the betrayal he is urging on you. If he does not press 
down too quickly or just a shade too powerfully, you still have 
fifteen seconds left in which to scream that you will confess to 
everything, that you are ready to see arrested all twenty of those 
people he’s been demanding of you, or that you will slander in the 
newspapers everything you hold holy. . . . 

And may you be judged by God, but not by people... . 

“There is no way out! You have to confess to everything!” 
whisper the stoolies who have been planted in the cell. 

“It’s a simple question: hang onto your health!” say people 
with common sense. 

“You can’t get new teeth,” those who have already lost them 
nod at you. 

“They are going to convict you in any case, whether you con¬ 
fess or whether you don’t,” conclude those who have got to the 
bottom of things. 

“Those who don’t sign get shot!” prophesies someone else in 
the comer. “Out of vengeance! So as not to risk any leaks about 
how they conduct interrogations.” 

“And if you die in the interrogator’s office, they’ll tell your 
relatives you’ve been sentenced to camp without the right of 
correspondence. And then just let them look for you.” 

If you are an orthodox Communist, then another orthodox 
Communist will sidle up to you, peering about with hostile sus¬ 
picion, and he’ll begin to whisper in your ear so that the un¬ 
initiated cannot overhear: 

“It’s our duty to support Soviet interrogation. It’s a combat 
situation. We ourselves are to blame. We were too softhearted; 
and now look at all the rot that has multiplied in the country. 
There is a vicious secret war going on. Even here we are sur¬ 
rounded by enemies. Just listen to what they are saying! The 

The Interrogation \ 129 

Party is not obliged to account for what it does to every single 
one of us—to explain the whys and wherefores. If they ask us to, 
that means we should sign.” 

And another orthodox Communist sidles up: 

“I signed denunciations against thirty-five people, against all 
my acquaintances. And I advise you too: Drag along as many 
names as you can in your wake, as many as you can. That way it 
will become obvious that the whole thing is an absurdity and 
they’ll let everyone out!” 

But that is precisely what the Organs need. The conscientious¬ 
ness of the orthodox Communist and the purpose of the NKVD 
naturally coincide. Indeed, the NKVD needs just that arched 
fan of names, that fat multiplication of them. That is the mark of 
quality of their work, and these are also new patches of woods in 
which to set out snares. “Your accomplices, accomplices! Others 
who share your views!” That is what they keep pressing to shake 
out of everyone. They say that R. Ralov named Cardinal Riche¬ 
lieu as one of his accomplices and that the Cardinal was in fact 
so listed in his depositions—and no one was astonished by this 
until Ralov was questioned about it at his rehabilitation proceed¬ 
ings in 1956. 

Apropos of the orthodox Communists, Stalin was necessary, 
for such a purge as that, yes, but a Party like that was necessary 
too: the majority of those in power, up to the very moment of 
their own arrest, were pitiless in arresting others, obediently 
destroyed their peers in accordance with those same instructions 
and handed over to retribution any friend or comrade-in-arms of 
yesterday. And all the big Bolsheviks, who now wear martyrs’ 
halos, managed to be the executioners of other Bolsheviks (not 
even taking into account how all of them in the first place had 
been the executioners of non-Communists). Perhaps 1937 was 
needed in order to show how little their whole ideology was worth 
—that ideology of which they boasted so enthusiastically, turning 
Russia upside down, destroying its foundations, trampling every¬ 
thing it held sacred underfoot, that Russia where they themselves 
had never been threatened by such retribution. The victims of 
the Bolsheviks from 1918 to 1946 never conducted themselves 


SO despicably as the leading Bolsheviks when the lightning struck 
them. If you study in detail the whole history of the arrests and 
trials of 1936 to 1938, the principal revulsion you feel is not 
against Stalin and his accomplices, but against the humiliatingly 
repulsive defendants—^nausea at their spiritual baseness after 
their former pride and implacability. 

So what is the answer? How can you stand your ground when 
you are weak and sensitive to pain, when people you love are 
still alive, when you are unprepared? 

What do you need to make you stronger than the interrogator 
and the whole trap? 

From the moment you go to prison you must put your cozy 
past firmly behind you. At the very threshold, you must say to 
yourself: “My life is over, a little early to be sure, but there’s 
nothing to be done about it. I shall never return to freedom. I am 
condemned to die—^now or a little later. But later on, in truth, 
it will be even harder, and so the sooner the better. I no longer 
have any property whatsoever. For me those I love have died, and 
for them I have died. From today on, my body is useless and 
alien to me. Only my spirit and my conscience remain precious 
and important to me.” : • • 

Confronted by such a prisoner, the interrogation will tremble. 

Only the man who has renounced everything can win that 

But how can one turn one’s body to stone? 

Well, they managed to turn some individuals from the Berd¬ 
yayev circle into puppets for a trial, but they didn’t succeed with 
Berdyayev. They wanted to drag him into an open trial; they 
arrested him twice; and (in 1922) he was subjected to a night 
interrogation by Dzerzhinsky himself. Kamenev was there too 
(which means that he, too, was not averse to using the Cheka 
in an ideological conflict). But Berdyayev did not humiliate him¬ 
self. He did not beg or plead. He set forth firmly those religious 
and moral principles which had led him to refuse to accept the 
political authority established in Russia. And not only did they 
come to the conclusion that he would be useless for a trial, but 
they liberated him. 

The Interrogation \ 131 

A human being has a point of view! 

N. Stolyarova recalls an old woman who was her neighbor on 
the ButyrW bunks in 1937. They kept on interrogating her every 
night. Two years earlier, a former Metropolitan of the Orthodox 
Church, who had escaped from exile, had spent a night at her 
home on his way through Moscow. “But he wasn’t the former 
Metropolitan, he was the Metropolitan! Truly, I was worthy of 
receiving him.” “All right then. To whom did he go when he 
left Moscow?” “I know, but I won’t tell you!” (The Metropolitan 
had escaped to Finland via an underground railroad of believers.) 
At first the interrogators took turns, and then they went after her 
in groups. They shook their fists in the little old woman’s face, 
and she replied: “There is nothing you can do with me even if you 
cut me into pieces. After all, you are afraid of your bosses,, and 
you are afraid of each other, and you are even afraid of killing 
me.” (They would lose contact with the underground railroad.) 
“But I am not afraid of anything. I would be glad to be judged 
by God right this minute.” 

There were such people in 1937 too, people who did not return 
to their cell for their bundles of belongings, who chose death, 
who signed nothing denouncing anyone. 

One can’t say that the history of the Russian revolutionaries 
has given us any better examples of steadfastness. But there is 
no comparison anyway, because none of our revolutionaries ever 
knew what a really good interrogation could be, with fifty-two 
different methods to choose from. 

Sheshkovsky did not subject Radishchev to torture. And be¬ 
cause of contemporary custom, Radishchev knew perfectly well 
that his sons would serve as officers in the imperial guard no mat¬ 
ter what happened to him, and that their lives wouldn’t be cut 
short. Nor would anyone confiscate Radishchev’s family estate. 
Nonetheless, in the course of his brief two-week interrogation, 
this outstanding man renounced his beliefs and his book and 
begged for mercy. 

Nicholas I didn’t have enough imagination to arrest the wives 
of the Decembrists and compel them to scream in the interroga¬ 
tion room next door, or even to torture the Decembrists them¬ 
selves. But in any case he didn’t need to. Even Ryleyev “answered 


fully, frankly, and hid nothing.” Even Pestel broke down and 
named comrades (who were still free) assigned to bury Russkaya 
Pravda and the very place where it had been buried.^^ There were 
very few who, like Lunin, expressed disdain and contempt for 
the investigating commission. The majority behaved badly and 
got one another more deeply involved. Many of them begged 
abjectly to be pardoned! Zavalishin put all the blame on Ryleyev. 
Y. P. Obolensky and S. P. Trubetskoi couldn’t wait to slander 
Griboyedov—^which even Nicholas I didn’t believe. 

Bakunin in his Confessions abjectly groveled before Nicholas 
I—^thereby avoiding execution. Was this wretchedness of soul? 
Or revolutionary cunning? 

One would think that those who decided to assassinate Alex¬ 
ander II must have been people of the highest selflessness and 
dedication. After all, they knew what the stakes were! Grinye- 
vitsky shared the fate of the Tsar, but Rysakov remained alive and 
was held for interrogation. And that very day he blabbed on the 
participants in the plot and identified their secret meeting places. 
Out of fear for his young life he rushed to give the government 
more information than he could ever have been suspected of 
having. He nearly choked with repentance; he proposed to “ex¬ 
pose all the secrets of the Anarchists.” 

At the end of the last century and the beginning of this one, 
the Tsarist interrogator immediately withdrew his question if 
the prisoner found it inappropriate or too intimate. But in Kresty 
Prison in 1938, when the old political hard-labor prisoner Zelen¬ 
sky was whipped with ramrods with his pants pulled down like 
a small boy, he wept in his cell: “My Tsarist interrogator didn’t 
even dare address me rudely.” 

Or, for example, we learn from recently published research*® 
that the Tsarist gendarmes seized the manuscript of Lenin’s es¬ 
say “What Are Our Ministers Thinking Of?” but were unable to 
get at its author: 

“At the interrogation the gendarmes, just as one might have 
expected, learned very little from the student Vaneyev. [The 

27. In part, the reason for this was the same as in the case of Bukharin many 
years later. They were, after all, being interrogated by their social equals, their 
class brothers, and so their desire to explain everything was only natural. 

28. R. Peresvetov, Navy Mir, No. 4, 1962. 

The Interrogation \ 133 

italics here and throughout this quotation are my own.] He in¬ 
formed them only that the manuscripts found at his place had 
been brought to him in one package for safekeeping several days 
before the search by a certain person whom he did not wish to 
name. Therefore the interrogator’s sole alternative was to turn 
the manuscripts over for expert analysis.” The experts learned 
nothing. (What did he mean—his “sole alternative”? What about 
icy water up to the ankles? Or a salt-water douche? Or Ryumin’s 
truncheon?) It would seem that the author of this article, R. 
Peresvetov, himself served time for several years and might easily 
have enumerated what “alternatives” the interrogator actually 
had when confronting the guardian of Lenin’s “What Are Our 
Ministers Thinking Of?” 

As S. P. Melgunov recollects: “That was a Tsarist prison, a 
prison of blessed memory, which political prisoners nowadays 
can only recall with a feeling almost of gladness.”^® 

But that is a case of displaced concepts. The yardstick is totally 
different. Just as oxcart drivers of Gogol’s time could not have 
imagined the speed of a jet plane, those who have never gone 
through the receiving-line meat grinder of Gulag cannot grasp 
the true possibilities of interrogation. 

We read in Izvestiya for May 24, 1959, that Yulipa Rumyan¬ 
tseva was confined in the internal prison of a Nazi camp while 
they tried to find out from her the whereabouts of her husband, 
who had escaped from that same camp. She knew, but she refused 
to tell! For a reader who is not in the know this is a model of 
heroism. For a reader with a bitter Gulag past it’s a model of in¬ 
efficient interrogation: Yuliya did not die under torture, and she 
was not driven insane. A month later she was simply released— 
still very much alive and kicking. 

All these thoughts about standing firm as a rock were quite 
unknown to me in February, 1945. Not only was I not in the 
least prepared to cut my cozy ties with earth, I was even quite 

29. S. P. Melgunov, Vospominaniya i Dnevniki, (Memoirs and Diaries), 
Vol. 1, Paris, 1964, p. 139. 


angry for a long time because a hundred or so Faber pencils had 
been taken away from me when I was arrested. Looking back on 
my interrogation from my long subsequent imprisonment, I had 
no reason to be proud of it. I might have borne myself more 
firmly; and in all probabihty I could have maneuvered more skill¬ 
fully. But my first weeks were characterized by a mental blackout 
and a slump into depression. The only reason these recollections 
do not torment me with remorse is that, thanks be to God, I 
avoided getting anyone else arrested. But I came close to it. 

Although we were front-line officers, Nikolai V. and I, who 
were involved in the same case, got ourselves into prison through 
a piece of childish stupidity. He and I corresponded during the 
war, between two sectors of the front; and though we knew 
perfectly well that wartime censorship of correspondence was in 
effect, we indulged in fairly outspoken expressions of our political 
outrage and in derogatory comments about the Wisest of the 
Wise, whom we labeled with the transparently obvious nick¬ 
name of Pakhan or Ringleader of the Thieves. (When, later 
on, I reported our case in various prisons, our naivete aroused 
only laughter and astonishment. Other prisoners told me that 
two more such stupid jackasses couldn’t exist. And I became 
convinced of it myself. Then suddenly, one day, reading some 
documents on the case of Aleksandr Ulyanov, Lenin’s elder 
brother, I learned that he and his confederates got caught in 
exactly the same way—a careless exchange of letters. And that 
was the only reason Alexander III didn’t die on March 1,1887.)®® 

The office of my interrogator, 1.1. Yezepov, was high-ceilinged, 
spacious and bright, with an enormous window. (The Rossiya 
Insurance Company had not been built with torture in mind.) 
And, putting to use its seventeen feet of height, a full-length, 
vertical, thirteen-foot portrait of that powerful Sovereign hung 

30. A member of the group, Andreyushkin sent a frank letter to his friend 
in Kharkov: “I am firmly convinced that we are going to have the most 
merciless terror—and in the fairly near future too. . . . Red Terror is my hobby. 
... I am worried about my addressee. ... If he gets it, then I may get it too, 
and that will be unfortunate because I will drag in a lot of very effective people.” 
It was not the first such letter he had written! And the unhurried search this 
letter initiated continued for five weeks, via Kharkov, in order to discover who 
in St. Petersburg had written it. Andreyushkin’s identity was not established 
until February 28. On March 1, the bomb throwers, bombs in hand, were ar¬ 
rested on Nevsky Prospekt just before the attempted assassination. 

The Interrogation \ 135 

there, toward whom I, grain of sand that I was, had expressed my 
hatred. Sometimes the interrogator stood in front of the portrait 
and declaimed dramatically: “We are ready to lay down our lives 
for him! We are ready to lie down in the path of oncoming tanks 
for his sake!” Face to face with the altarlike grandeur of that por¬ 
trait, my mumbling about some kind of purified Leninism seemed 
pitiful, and I myself seemed a blasphemous slanderer deserving 
only death. 

The contents of our letters provided more than enough, in 
keeping with the standards of those times, to sentence us both. 
Therefore my interrogator did not have to invent anything. He 
merely tried to cast his noose around everyone I had ever written 
to or received a letter from. I had expressed myself vehemently in 
letters to friends my own age and had been almost reckless in 
spelling out seditious ideas, but my friends for some reason had 
continued to correspond with me! And some suspicious phrases 
could be found in their replies to my letters.®^ And then Yezepov, 
like Porfiri Petrovich, demanded that I explain it all in a coherent 
way: if we had expressed ourselves in such a fashion in letters 
that we knew were subject to censorship, what could we have 
said to each other face to face? I could not convince him that all 
my fire-eating talk was confined to my letters. And at that point, 
with muddled mind, I had to undertake to weave something 
credible about my meetings with my friends—^meetings referred 
to in my letters. What I said had to jibe with the letters, in such 
a way as to be on the very edge of political matters and yet not 
fall under that Criminal Code. Moreover, these explanations 
had to pour forth quickly, all in one breath, so as to convince this 
veteran interrogator of my naivete, my humility, my total honesty. 
The main thing was not to provoke my lazy interrogator to any 
interest in looking through that accursed load of stuff I had 

31. One of our school friends was nearly arrested because of me at this time. 
It was an enormous relief to me to learn later that he was still free! But then, 
twenty-two years later, he wrote to me: “On the basis of your published works I 
conclude that you take a one-sided view of life. . . . Objectively speaking, you 
have become the standard-bearer of Fascist reactionaries in the West, in West 
Germany and the United States, for example. . . . Lenin, whom, I*m convinced, 
you love and honor just as much as you used to, yes, and old Marx and Engels, 
too, would have condemned you in the severest fashion. Think about that!** 
Indeed, I do think about that: How sorry I am that you didn*t get arrested then! 
How much you lost! 


brought in my accursed suitcase—including many notebooks of 
my “War Diary,” written in hard, light pencil in a needle-thin 
handwriting, with some of the notes already partially washed out. 
These diaries constituted my claim to becoming a writer. I had 
not believed in the capacities of our amazing memory, and 
throughout the war years I had tried to write down everything I 
saw. That would have been only half a catastrophe: I also wrote 
down everything I heard from other people. But opinions and 
stories which were so natural in front-line areas seemed to be 
treasonable here in the rear and reeked of raw imprisonment for 
my front-line comrades. So to prevent that interrogator from 
going to work on my “War Diary” and mining from it a whole 
case against a free front-line tribe, I repented just as much as I 
had to and pretended to see the light and reject my political mis¬ 
takes. I became utterly exhausted from this balancing on a razor’s 
edge, until I recognized that no one was being hauled in for a 
confrontation with me and distinguished the clear signs that the 
interrogation was drawing to an end... until, in the fourth month, 
all the notebooks of my “War Diary” were cast into the hellish 
maw of the Lubyanka furnace, where they burst into flame—the 
red pyre of one more novel which had perished in Russia—and 
flew out of the highest chimney in black butterflies of soot. 

We used to walk in the shadow of that chimney, our exercise 
yard a boxlike concrete enclosure on the roof of the Big Lub¬ 
yanka, six floors up. The walls rose around us to approximately 
three times a man’s height. With our own ears we could hear 
Moscow—automobile horns honking back and forth. But all we 
could see was that chimney, the guard posted in a seventh-floor 
tower, and that segment of God’s heaven whose unhappy fate it 
was to float over the Lubyanka. 

Oh, that soot! It kept falling on and on in that first postwar 
May. So much of it fell during each of our walks that we decided 
the Lubyanka must be burning countless years of files. My 
doomed diary was only one momentary plume of that soot. I 
recalled a frosty sunny morning in March when I was sitting in 
the interrogator’s office. He was asking his customary crude ques¬ 
tions and writing down my answers, distorting my words as he 
did so. The sun played in the melting latticework of the frost on 
the wide window, through which at times I felt very much like 
jumping, so as to flash through Moscow at least in death and 

The Interrogation \ 137 

smash onto the sidewalk five floors below, just as, in my child¬ 
hood, my unknown predecessor had jumped from House 33 in 
Rostov-on-the-Don. In the gaps where the frost had melted, the 
rooftops of Moscow could be seen, rooftop after rooftop, and 
above them merry little puffs of smoke. But I was staring not in 
that direction but at a mound of piled-up manuscripts—someone 
else’s—covering the entire center of the floor in this half-empty 
room, thirty-six square yards in area, manuscripts which had 
been dumped there a little while before and had not yet been 
examined. In notebooks, in file folders, in homemade binders, in 
tied and untied bundles, and simply in loose pages. The manu¬ 
scripts lay there like the burial mound of some interred human 
spirit, its conical top rearing higher than the interrogator’s desk, al¬ 
most blocking me from his view. And brotherly pity ached in me 
for the labor of that unknown person who had been arrested the 
previous night, these spoils from the search of his premises hav¬ 
ing been dumped that very morning on the parquet floor of the 
torture chamber, at the feet of that thirteen-foot Stalin. I sat 
there and I wondered: Whose extraordinary life had they brought 
in for torment, for dismemberment, and then for burning? 

Oh, how many ideas and works had perished in that building 
—a whole lost culture? Oh, soot, soot, from the Lubyanka 
chimneys! And the most hurtful thing of all was that our descend¬ 
ants would consider our generation more stupid, less gifted, less 
vocal than in actual fact it was. 

One needs to have only two points in order to draw a straight 
line between them. 

In 1920, as Ehrenburg recalls, the Cheka addressed him as 

“You prove to us that you are not Wrangel’s agent.” 

And in 1950, one of the leading colonels of the MGB, Foma 
Fomich Zheleznov, said to his prisoners: “We are not going 
to sweat to prove the prisoner’s guilt to him. Let him prove to 
us that he did not have hostile intent.” 

And along this cannibalistically artless straight line lie the 
recollections of countless millions. 

What a speed-up and simplification of criminal investigation 


previously unknown to mankind! The Organs altogether freed 
themselves of the burden of obtaining proof! Trembling and pale, 
the rabbit who had been caught, deprived of the right to write 
anyone, phone anyone, bring anything with him from freedom, 
deprived too of sleep, food, paper, pencils, and even buttons, 
seated on a bare stool in the corner of an office, had to try to find 
out for himself and display to that loafer of an interrogator proof 
that he did not have hostile intentions. If he could not discover 
such proof (and where would he find it?), by that very failure he 
provided the interrogation with approximate proof of his guilt! 

I knew of a case in which a certain old man who had been a 
prisoner in Germany managed nonetheless, sitting there on his 
bare stool and gesturing with his cold fingers, to prove to his 
monster of an interrogator that he did not betray his Motherland 
and even that he did not have any such intention! It was a 
scandal! And what happened? Did they free him? Of course not 
—after all, he told me about this in Butyrki and not on Tverskoi 
Boulevard in the middle of Moscow. At that point a second inter¬ 
rogator joined the first and they spent a quiet evening reminisc¬ 
ing with the old man. Then the two interrogators signed witnesses’ 
affidavits stating that in the course of the evening the hungry, 
sleepy old man had engaged in anti-Soviet propaganda! Things 
were said innocently—^but they weren’t listened to innocently. 
The old man was then turned over to a third interrogator, who 
quashed the treason indictment and neatly nailed him with that 
very same tenner for Anti-Soviet Agitation during his interroga¬ 

Given that interrogations had ceased to be an attempt to get at 
the truth, for the interrogators in difficult cases they became a 
mere exercise of their duties as executioners and in easy cases 
simply a pastime and a basis for receiving a salary. 

And easy cases always existed, even in the notorious year 
1937. For example, Borodko was accused of having visited his 
parents in Poland sixteen years before without having a passport 
for foreign travel. (His papa and mama lived all of ten versts—six 
miles—away, but the diplomats had signed away that part of 
Byelorussia to Poland, and in 1921 people had not yet gotten used 
to that fact and went back and forth as they pleased.) The inter¬ 
rogation took just half an hour. Question: Did you go there? 

The Interrogation \ 139 

Answer: I did. Question: How? Answer: Horseback, of course. 
Conclusion: Take ten years for KRD.®^ 

But that sort of pace smells of the Stakhanovite movement, 
a movement which found no disciples among the bluecaps. Ac¬ 
cording to the Code of Criminal Procedure every interrogation 
was supposed to take two months. And if it presented difficulties, 
one was allowed to ask the prosecutor for several continuations of 
a month apiece (which, of course, the prosecutors never refused). 
Thus it would have been stupid to risk one’s health, not to take 
advantage of these postponements, and, speaking in factory terms, 
to raise one’s work norms. Having worked with voice and fist in 
the initial assault week of every interrogation, and thereby ex¬ 
pended one’s will and character (as per Vyshinsky), the inter¬ 
rogators had a vital interest in dragging out the remainder of 
every case as long as possible. That way more old, subdued cases 
were on hand and fewer new ones. It was considered just indecent 
to complete a political interrogation in two months. 

The state system itself suffered from its own lack of trust and 
from its rigidity. These interrogators were selected personnel, but 
they weren’t trusted either. In all probability they, too, were re¬ 
quired to check in on arriving and check out on leaving, and the 
prisoners were, of course, checked in and out when called for 
questioning. What else could the interrogators do to keep the 
bookkeepers’ accounts straight? They would summon one of their 
defendants, sit him down in a comer, ask him some terrifying 
question—and then forget about him while they themselves sat 
for a long time reading the paper, writing an outline for a political 
indoctrination course or personal letters, or went off to visit one 
another, leaving guards to act as watchdogs in their place. Peace¬ 
fully batting the breeze on the sofa with a colleague who had just 
dropped in, the interrogator would come to himself once in a 
while, look threateningly at the accused, and say: 

“Now there’s a rat! There’s a real rat for you! Well, that’s all 
right, we’ll not be stingy about his nine grams!” 

My interrogator also made frequent use of the telephone. For 
example, he used to phone home and tell his wife—^with his 
sparkling eyes directed at me—that he was going to be working 
all night long so she mustn’t expect him before morning. (My 

32. KRD = Counter-Revolutionary Activity. 


heart, of course, fell. That meant he would be working me over all 
night long!) But then he would immediately dial the phone num¬ 
ber of his mistress and, in purring tones, make a date with her for 
the night. (So: I would be able to get some sleep! I felt relieved.) 

Thus it was that the faultless system was moderated only by the 
shortcomings of those who carried it out. 

Certain of the more curious interrogators used to enjoy using 
“empty” interrogations to broaden their knowledge of life. They 
might ask the accused prisoner about the front (about those very 
German tanks beneath which they never quite managed to find 
the time to throw themselves). Or perhaps about the customs of 
European countries and lands across the sea which the prisoner 
had visited: about the stores and the merchandise sold in them, 
and particularly about procedures in foreign whorehouses and 
about all kinds of adventures with women. 

The Code of Criminal Procedure provided that the prosecutor 
was to review continuously the course of every interrogation to 
ensure its being conducted correctly. But no one in our time ever 
saw him face to face until the so-called “questioning by the 
prosecutor,” which meant the interrogation was nearing its end. 
I, too, was taken to such a “questioning.” Lieutenant Colonel 
Kotov, a calm, well-nourished, impersonal blond man, who was 
neither nasty nor nice but essentially a cipher, sat behind his 
desk and, yawning, examined for the first time the file on my case. 
He spent fifteen minutes acquainting himself with it while I 
watched. (Since this “questioning” was quite unavoidable and 
since it was also recorded, there would have been no sense at all 
in his studying the file at some earlier, unrecorded time and 
then having had to remember details of the case for a certain 
number of hours.) Finally, he raised his indifferent eyes to stare 
at the wall and asked lazily what I wanted to add to my testimony. 

He was required by law to ask what complaints I had about 
the conduct of the interrogation and whether coercion had been 
used or any violations of my legal rights had occurred. But it 
had been a long time since prosecutors asked such questions. And 
what if they had? After all, the existence of that entire Ministry 
building with its thousands of rooms, and of all five thousand of 
the Ministry’s other interrogation buildings, railroad cars, caves, 
and dugouts scattered throughout the Soviet Union, was based 

The Interrogation \ 141 

on violations of legal rights. And it certainly wasn’t up to Lieu¬ 
tenant Colonel Kotov and me to reverse that whole process. 

Anyway, all the prosecutors of any rank at all held their posi¬ 
tions with the approval of that very same State Security which .. . 
they were supposed to check up on. 

His own wilted state, his lack of combativeness, and his fatigue 
from all those endless stupid cases were somehow transmitted to 
me. So I didn’t raise questions of truth with him. I requested only 
that one too obvious stupidity be corrected: two of us had been 
indicted in the same case, but our interrogations were conducted 
in different places—mine in Moscow and my friend’s at the front. 
Therefore I was processed singly, yet charged under Section 11— 
in other words, as a group, an organization. As persuasively as 
possible, I requested him to cancel this additional charge under 
Section 11. 

He leafed through the case for another five minutes, sighed, 
spread out his hands, and said: 

“What’s there to say? One person is a person and two persons 
are . .. people.” 

But one person and a half—is that an organization? 

And he pushed the button for them to come and take me away. 

Soon after that, late one evening in late May, in that same 
office with a sculptured bronze clock on the marble mantel, my 
interrogator summoned me for a “206” procedure. This was, in 
accordance with the provisions of the Code of Criminal Proce¬ 
dure, the defendant’s review of the case before his final signa¬ 
ture. Not doubting for one moment that I would sign, the inter¬ 
rogator was already seated, writing the conclusion of the indict¬ 

I opened the cover of the thick file, and there, on the inside of 
the cover in printed text, I read an astonishing statement. It 
turned out that during the interrogation I had had the right to 
make written complaints against anything improper in its con¬ 
duct, and that the interrogator was obliged to staple these com¬ 
plaints into my record! During the interrogation! Not at its end. 

Alas, not one of the thousands with whom I was later im¬ 
prisoned had been aware of this right. 

I turned more pages. I saw photocopies of my own letters and 
a totally distorted interpretation of their meaning by unknown 


commentators (like Captain Libin). I saw the hyperbolized lie 
in which Captain Yezepov had wrapped up my careful testimony. 
And, last but not least, I saw the idiocy whereby I, one individual, 
was accused as a “group”! 

“I won’t sign,” I said, without much firmness. “You conducted 
the interrogation improperly.” 

“An right then, let’s begin it all over again!” Maliciously he 
compressed his lips. “We’ll send you off to the place where we 
keep the Polizei.” 

He even stretched out his hand as though to take the file away 
from me. (At that point I held onto it.) 

Somewhere outside the fifth-floor windows of the Lubyanka, 
the golden sunset sun glowed. Somewhere it was May. The office 
windows, like all the windows facing outward, were tightly closed 
and had not yet been unsealed after the winter—so that fresh 
air and the fragrance of things in bloom should not creep into 
those hidden rooms. The bronze clock on the mantel, from which 
the last rays of the sun had disappeared, quietly chimed. 

Begin dl over again? It seemed to me it would be easier to 
die than to begin all over again. Ahead of me loomed at least 
some kind of life. (If I had only known what kind!) And then 
what about that place where they kept the Polizei? And, in 
general, it was a bad idea to make him angry. It would influence 
the tone in which he phrased the conclusion of the indictment. 

And so I signed. I signed it complete with Section 11, the 
significance of which I did not then know. They told me only 
that it would not add to my prison term. But because of that Sec¬ 
tion 111 was later put into a hard-labor camp. Because of that 
Section 111 was sent, even after “liberation,” and without any 
additional sentence, into eternal exile. 

Maybe it was all for the best. Without both those experiences, 
I would not have written this book. 

My interrogator had used no methods on me other than sleep¬ 
lessness, lies, and threats—all completely legal. Therefore, in 
the course of the “206” procedure, he didn’t have to shove at me 
—as did interrogators who had made a mess of things and wanted 
to play safe—a document on nondisclosure for me to sign: that 
I, die undersigned, under pain of criminal penalty, swore never to 

The Interrogation \ 143 

tell anyone about the methods used in conducting my interroga¬ 
tion. (No one knows, incidentally, what article of the Code this 
comes under.) 

In several of the provincial administrations of the NKVD this 
measure was carried out in sequence: the typed statement on 
nondisclosure was shoved at a prisoner along with the verdict 
of the OSO. And later a similar document was shoved at prison¬ 
ers being released from camp, whereby they guaranteed never 
to disclose to anyone the state of affairs in camp. 

And so? Our habit of obedience, our bent (or broken) back¬ 
bone, did not suffer us either to reject this gangster method of 
burying loose ends or even to be enraged by it. 

We have lost the measure of freedom. We have no means of 
determining where it begins and where it ends. We are an Asiatic 
people. On and on and on they go, taking from us those endless 
pledges of nondisclosure—everyone not too lazy to ask for them. 

By now we are even unsure whether we have the right to talk 
about the events of our own lives. 

Chapter 4 

The Bluecaps 

Throughout the grinding of our souls in the gears of the great 
Nighttime Institution, when our souls are pulverized and our 
flesh hangs down in tatters like a beggar’s rags, we suffer too 
much and are too immersed in oiur own pain to rivet with pene¬ 
trating and far-seeing gaze those pale night executioners who tor¬ 
ture us. A surfeit of inner grief floods our eyes. Otherwise what 
historians of our torturers we would be! For it is certain they will 
never describe themselves as they actually are. But alas! Every 
former prisoner remembers his own interrogation in detail, how 
they squeezed him, and what foulness they squeezed out of him 
—^but often he does not even remember their names, let alone 
think about them as human beings. So it is with me. I can recall 
much more—and much more that’s interesting—about any one 
of my cellmates than I can about Captain of State Security 
Yezepov, with whom I spent no little time face to face, the two of 
us alone in his office. 

There is one thing, however, which remains with us all as an 
accurate, generalized recollection: foul rot—a space totally in¬ 
fected with putrefaction. And even when, decades later, we are 
long past fits of anger or outrage, in our own quieted hearts we 
retain this firm impression of low, malicious, impious, and, pos¬ 
sibly, muddled people. 

There is an interesting story about Alexander II, the Tsar sur¬ 
rounded by revolutionaries, who were to make seven attempts on 
his life. He once visited the House of Preliminary Detention on 
Shpalernaya—the uncle of the Big House—where he ordered 
them to lock him up in solitary-confinement cell No. 227. He 


The Bluecaps | 145 

stayed in it for more than an hour, attempting thereby to sense the 
state of mind of those he had imprisoned there. 

One cannot but admit that for a monarch this was evidence of 
moral aspiration, to feel the need and make the effort to take a 
spiritual view of the matter. 

But it is impossible to picture any of our interrogators, right 
up to Abakumov and Beria, wanting to slip into a prisoner’s skin 
even for one hour, or feeling compelled to sit and meditate in soli¬ 
tary confinement. 

Their branch of service does not require them to be educated 
people of broad culture and broad views—and they are not. Their 
branch of service does not require them to think logically—and 
they do not. Their branch of service requires only that they carry 
out orders exactly and be impervious to suffering—and that is 
what they do and what they are. We who have passed through 
their hands feel suffocated when we think of that legion, which is 
stripped bare of universal human ideals. 

Although others might not be aware of it, it was clear to the 
interrogators at least that the cases were fabricated. Except at 
staff conferences, they could not seriously say to one another or to 
themselves that they were exposing criminals. Nonetheless they 
kept right on producing depositions page after page to make sure 
that we rotted. So the essence of it all turns out to be the credo of 
the blatnye—the underworld of Russian thieves: “You today; me 

They understood that the cases were fabricated, yet they kept 
on working year after year. How could they? Either they forced 
themselves not to think (and this in itself means the ruin of a 
human being), and simply accepted that this was the way it had 
to be and that the person who gave them their orders was always 

But didn’t the Nazis, too, it comes to mind, argue that same way?^ 

1. There is no way of sidestepping this comparison: both the years and the 
methods coincide too closely. And the comparison occurred even more naturally 
to those who had passed through the hands of both the Gestapo and the MGB. 
One of these was Yevgeny Ivanovich Divnich, an emigre and preacher of Ortho¬ 
dox Christianity. The Gestapo accused him of Communist activities among 
Russian workers in Germany, and the MGB charged him with having ties to 
the international bourgeoisie. Divnich’s verdict was unfavorable to the MGB. 
He was tortured by both, but the Gestapo was nonetheless trying to get at the 
truth, and when the accusation did not hold up, Divnich was released. The MGB 
wasn’t interested in the truth and had no intention of letting anyone out of 
its grip once he was arrested. 


Or else it was a matter of the Progressive Doctrine, the granite 
ideology. An interrogator in awful Orotukan—sent there to the 
Kolyma in 1938 as a penalty assignment—^was so touched when 
M. Lurye, former director of the Krivoi Rog Industrial Complex, 
readily agreed to sign an indictment which meant a second camp 
term Aat he used the time they had thus saved to say: “You think 
we get any satisfaction from using persuasion?^ We have to do 
what the Party demands of us. You are an old Party member. Tell 
me what would you do in my place?” Apparently Lurye nearly 
a^eed with him, and it may have been the fact that he had al¬ 
ready been thinking in some such terms that led him to sign so 
readily. It is after all a convincing argument. 

But most often it was merely a matter of cynicism. The blue- 
caps understood the workings of the meat grinder and loved it. 
In the Dzhida camps in 1944, interrogator Mironenko said to the 
condemned Babich with pride in his faultless logic: “Interrogation 
and trial are merely judicial corroboration. They cannot alter your 
fate, which was previously decided. If it is necessary to shoot you, 
then you will be shot even if you are altogether innocent. If it is 
necessary to acquit you,® then no^ matter how guilty you are you 
will be cleared and acquitted.” Kushnaryev, Chief of the First 
Investigation Department of the West Kazakhstan Provincial 
State Security Administration, laid it on the line in just that way to 
Adolf Tsivilko. “After all, we’re not going to let you out if you’re 
a Leningrader!” (In other words, a Communist Party member 
with seniority.) 

“Just give us a person—and we’ll create the case!’’ That was 
what many of them said jokingly, and it was their slogan. What 
we think of as torture they think of as good work. The wife of 
the interrogator Nikolai Grabishchenko (the Volga Canal Proj¬ 
ect) said touchingly to her neighbors: “Kolya is a very good 
worker. One of them didn’t confess for a long time—and they 
gave him to Kolya. Kolya talked with him for one night and he 

What prompted them all to slip into harness and pursue so 
zealously not truth but totab of the processed and condemned? 
Because it was most comfortable lor them not to be different from 
the others. And because these totals meant an easy life, supple- 

2. An affectionate term for torture. 

3. This evidently refers to their own people. 

The Bluecaps \ 147 

mentary pay, awards and decorations, promotions in rank, and 
the expansion and prosperity of the Organs themselves. If they ran 
up high totals, they could loaf when they felt like it, or do poor 
work or go out and enjoy themselves at night. And that is just 
what they did. Low totals led to their being kicked out, to the 
loss of their feedbag. For Stalin could never be convinced that in 
any district, or city, or military unit, he might suddenly cease to 
have enemies. 

That was why they felt no mercy, but, instead, an explosion of 
resentment and rage toward those maliciously stubborn' prisoners 
who opposed being fitted into the totals, who would not capitulate 
to sleeplessness or the punishment cell or hunger. By refusing to 
confess they menaced the interrogator’s personal standing. It was 
as though they wanted to bring Ti/m down. In such circumstances 
all measures were justified! If it’s to be war, then war it will be! 
We’ll ram the tube down your throat—^swallow that salt water! 

Excluded by the nature of their work and by deliberate choice 
from the higher sphere of human existence, the servitors of the 
Blue Institution lived in their lower sphere with aU the greater 
intensity and avidity. And there they were possessed and directed 
by the two strongest instincts of the lower sphere, other than 
hunger and sex: greed for power and greed for gain. (Particularly 
for power. In recent decades it has turned out to be more im¬ 
portant than money.) 

Power is a poison well known for thousands of years. If only 
no one were ever to acquire material power over others! But to 
the human being who has faith in some force that holds dominion 
over all of us, and who is therefore conscious of his own limita¬ 
tions, power is not necessarily fatal. For those, however, who are 
unaware of any higher sphere, it is a deadly poison. For them 
there is no antidote. 

Remember what Tolstoi said about power? Ivan Ilyich had 
accepted an official position which gave him authority to destroy 
any person he wanted to! All without exception were in his hands, 
and anyone, even the most important, could be brought before 
him as an accused. (And that is just where our blueboys are! 
There is nothing to add to the description.) The consciousness of 
this power (and “the possibilities of using it mercifully”—so 
Tolstoi qualifies the situation, but this does not in any way apply 


to our boys) constituted for Ivan Ilyich the chief interest and at¬ 
traction of the service. 

But attraction is not the right word—it is intoxication! After 
all, it is intoxicating. You are stiU young—^still, shall we say paren¬ 
thetically, a sniveling youth. Only a little while ago your parents 
were deeply concerned about you and didn’t know where to turn 
to launch you in life. You were such a fool you didn’t even want 
to study, but you got through three years of that school—and then 
how you took off and flew! How your situation changed! How your 
gestures changed, your glance, the turn of your head! The learned 
council of the scientific institute is in session. You enter and every¬ 
one notices you and trembles. You don’t take the chairman’s chair. 
Those headaches are for the rector to take on. You sit off to one 
side, but everyone understands that you are head man there. You 
are the Special Department. And you can sit there for just five 
minutes and then leave. You have that advantage over the pro¬ 
fessors. You can be called away by more important business—^but 
later on, when you’re considering their decision, you will raise 
your eyebrows or, better still, purse your lips and say to the rector: 
“You can’t do that. There are special considerations involved.” 
That’s all! And it won’t be done. Or else you are an osobist—a 
State Security representative in the army—a SMERSH man, and 
a mere lieutenant; but the portly old colonel, the commander of 
the unit, stands up when you enter the room and tries to flatter you, 
to play up to you. He doesn’t even have a drink with his chief 
of staff without inviting you to join them. The fact that you have 
only two tiny stars on your shoulder boards doesn’t mean a thing; 
it is even amusing. After all, your stars have a very different weight 
and are measured on a totally different scale from those of ordi¬ 
nary officers. (On special assignments you are sometimes even 
authorized to wear major’s insignia, for example, which is a sort 
of incognito, a convention.) You have a power over all the people 
in that military unit, or factory, or district, incomparably greater 
than that of the military commander, or factory director, or 
secretary of the district Communist Party. These men control 
people’s military or official duties, wages, reputations, but you 
control people’s freedom. And no one dares speak about you at 
meetings, and no one will ever dare write about you in the news¬ 
paper—^not only something bad but anything good! They don’t 
dare. Your name, like that of a jealously guarded deity, cannot 

The Bluecaps \ 149 

even be mentioned. You are there; everyone feels your presence; 
but it’s as though you didn’t exist. From the moment you don that 
heavenly blue service cap, you stand higher than the publicly 
acknowledged power. No one dares check up on what you do. But 
no one is exempt from your checking up on him. And therefore, 
in dealing with ordinary so-called citizens, who for you are mere 
blocks of wood, it is altogether appropriate for you to wear an 
ambiguous and deeply thoughtful expression. For, of course, you 
are the one—and no one else—^who knows about the special 
considerations. And therefore you are always right. 

There is just one thing you must never forget. You, too, would 
have been just such a poor block of wood if you had not had the 
luck to become one of the little links in the Organs —^that flexible, 
unitary organism inhabiting a nation as a tapeworm inhabits a 
human body. Everything is yours now! Ever 3 rthing is for you! 
Just be true to the Organs! They will always stand up for you! 
They will help you swaUow up anyone who bothers you! They 
will help move every obstacle from your path! But—^be true to the 
Organs! Do everything they order ydu to! They will do the think¬ 
ing for you in respect to your functions too: today you serve in 
a special unit; tomorrow you will sit in an interrogator’s armchair; 
and then perhaps you will travel to Lake Seliger as a folklorist,^ 
partly, it may be, to get your nerves straightened out. And next 
you may be sent from a city where you are too well known to the 
opposite end of the coun^ as a Plenipotentiary in Charge of 
Church Affairs.® Or perhaps you will become Executive Secretary 
of the Union of Soviet Writers.® Be surprised at nothing. People’s 
true appointments and true ranks are known only to the Organs. 
The rest is merely play-acting. Some Honored Artist or other, or 
Hero of Socialist Agriculture, is here today, and tomorrow, puff! 
he’s gone.'^ 

The duties of an interrogator require work, of course: you have 

4. Ilin in 1931. 

5. The violent Yaroslavl interrogator Volkopyalov, appointed Plenipotentiary 
in Charge of Church Affairs in Moldavia. 

6. Another Ilin—this one Viktor Nikolayevich, a former lieutenant general 
of State Security. 

7. “Who are you?” asked General Serov in Berlin of the world-renowned 
biologist Timofeyev-Ressovsky, offensively using the familiar form of address. 
And the scientist, who was undismayed and who possessed a Cossack’s heredi¬ 
tary daring, replied, using the same familiar form: “And who are you?” Serov 
corrected himself and, this time using the formal and correct form, asked: “Are 
you a scientist?” 


to come in during the day, at night, sit for hours and hours—^but 
not split your skull over “proof.” (Let the prisoner’s head ache 
over that.) And you don’t have to worry whether the prisoner is 
guilty or not but simply do what the Organs require. And every¬ 
thing win be all right. It will be up to you to make the interroga¬ 
tion periods pass as pleasurably as possible and not to get overly 
fatigued. And it would be nice to get some good out of it—at least 
to amuse yourself. You have been sitting a long time, and all of 
a sudden a new method of persuasion occurs to you! Eureka! So 
you call up your friends on the phone, and you go around to other 
offices and tell them about it—^what a laugh! Who shall we try it 
on, boys? It’s really pretty monotonous to keep doing the same 
thing ^ the time. Those trembUng hands, those imploring eyes, 
that cowardly submissiveness—they are really a bore. If you 
could just get one of them to resist! “I love strong opponents! 
It’s such fun to break their backs!” said the Leningrad interrogator 
Shitov to G. G- V. 

And if your opponent is so strong that he refuses to give in, 
aU your methods have failed, and you are in a rage? Then don’t 
control your fury! It’s tremendously satisfying, that outburst! Let 
your anger have its way; don’t set any bounds to it! Don’t hold 
yourself back! That’s when interrogators spit in the open mouth 
of the accused! And shove his face into a full cuspidor!® That’s 
the state of mind in which they drag priests around by their long 
hair! Or urinate in a kneeling prisoner’s face! After such a storm 
of fury you feel yourself a real honest-to-God man! 

Or else you are interrogating a “foreigner’s girl friend.”® So you 
curse her out and then you say: “Come on now, does an American 

have a special kind of-? Is that it? Weren’t there enough 

Russian ones for you?” And all of a sudden you get an idea; 
maybe she learned something from those foreigners. Here’s a 
chance not to be missed, like an assignment abroad! And so you 
begin to interrogate her energetically: How? What positions? 
More! In detail! Every scrap of information! (You can use the 
information yourself, and you can tell the other boys too!) The 
girl is blushing all over and in tears. “It doesn’t have anything to 
do with the case,” she protests. “Yes, it does, speak up!” That’s 

8. As happened with Vasilyev, according to Ivanov-Kazumnik. 

9. Esfir R., 1947. 

The Bluecaps \ 151 

power for you! She gives you the full details. If you want, she’ll 
draw a picture for you. If you want, she’ll demonstrate with her 
body. She has no way out. In your hands you hold the punish¬ 
ment cell and her prison term. 

And if you have asked for a stenographer^® to take down the 
questions and answers, and they send in a pretty one, you can 
shove your paw down into her bosom right in front of the boy 
being interrogated.^^ He’s not a human being after all, and there 
is no reason to feel shy in his presence. 

In fact, there’s no reason for you to feel shy with anyone. And 
if you like the broads—and who doesn’t?—^you’d be a fool not 
to make use of your position. Some will be drawn to you because 
of your power, and others will give in out of fear. So you’ve met 
a girl somewhere and she’s caught your eye? She’ll belong to you, 
never fear; she can’t get away! Someone else’s wife has caught 
your eye? She’ll be yours too! Because, after all, there’s no prob¬ 
lem about removing the husband.^^ No, indeed! To know what it 
meant to be a bluecap one had to experience it! An)rthing you 
saw was yours! Any apartment you looked at was yours! Any 
woman was yours! Any enemy was struck from your path! The 

10. Interrogator Pokhilko, Kemerovo State Security Administration. 

11. The schoolboy Misha B. 

12. For a long time I’ve been hanging on to a theme for a story to be called 
“The Spoiled Wife.” But it looks as though I will never get the chance to write it, 
so here it is. In a certain Far Eastern aviation unit before the Korean War, a 
certain lieutenant colonel returned from an assignment to find his wife in a 
hospital. The doctors did not hide the truth from him: her sexual organs had 
been injured by perverted sexual practices. The lieutenant colonel got in to see 
his wife and wrung from her the admission that the man responsible was the 
osobist in their unit, a senior lieutenant. (It would seem, by the way, that this 
incident had not occurred without some cooperation on her part.) In a rage 
the lieutenant colonel ran to the osobist’s office, took out his pistol, and 
threatened to kill him. But the senior lieutenant very quickly forced him to 
back down and leave the office defeated and pitiful. He threatened to send the 
lieutenant colonel to rot in the most horrible of camps, where he’d pray to be 
released from life without further torment, and he ordered him to take his wife 
back just as he found her—^with an injury that was to some extent incurable— 
and to live with her, not to dare get a divorce, and not to dare complain. And 
all this was the price for not being arrested! The lieutenant colonel did just as 
he was ordered. (I was told the story by the osobist’s chauffeur.) 

There must have been many such cases, because the abuse of power was par¬ 
ticularly attractive in this area. In 1944, another gaybist—State Security officer 
—^forced the daughter of an army general to marry him by threatening to arrest 
her father. The girl had a fiance, but to save her father she married the gaybist. 
She kept a diary during her brief marriage, gave it to her true love, and then 
committed suicide. 


earth beneath your feet was yours! The heaven above you was 
yours—it was, after all, like your cap, sky blue! 

The passion for gain was their universal passion. After all, 
in the absence of any checking up, such power was inevitably used 
for personal enrichment. One would have had to be holy to 

If we were able to discover the hidden motivation behind in¬ 
dividual arrests, we would be astounded to find that, granted the 
rules governing arrests in general, 75 percent of the time the 
particular choice of whom to arrest, the personal cast of the die, 
was determined by human greed and vengefulness; and of that 75 
percent, half were the result of material self-interest on the part 
of the local NKVD (and, of course, the prosecutor too, for on 
this point I do not distinguish between them). 

How, for example, did V. G. Vlasov’s nineteen-year-long 
journey through the Archipelago begin? As head of the District 
Consumer Cooperatives he arranged a sale of textiles for the 
activists of the local Party organization. (These materials were 
of a sort and quality which no one nowadays would even touch.) 
No one was bothered, of course, by the fact that this sale was not 
open to the general public. But the prosecutor’s wife was unable 
to buy any: She wasn’t there at the time; Prosecutor Rusov him¬ 
self had been shy about approaching the counter; and Vlasov 
hadn’t thought to say: “FU set some aside for you.” (In fact, given 
his character, he would never have said this anyway.) Further¬ 
more, Prosecutor Rusov had invited a friend to dine in the re¬ 
stricted Party dining room—such restricted dining rooms used to 
exist in the thirties. This friend of his was not high enough in rank 
to be admitted there, and the dining room manager refused to 
serve him. The prosecutor demanded that Vlasov punish the man¬ 
ager, and Vlasov refused. Vlasov also managed to insult the dis¬ 
trict NKVD, and just as painfully. And he was therefore added 
to the rightist opposition. 

The motivations and actions of the bluecaps are sometimes so 
petty that one can only be astounded. Security officer Senchenko 
took a map case and dispatch case from an officer he’d arrested 
and started to use them right in his presence, and, by manipu¬ 
lating the documentation, he took a pair of foreign gloves from 

The Bluecaps \ 153 

another prisoner. (When the armies were advancing, the bluecaps 
were especially irritated because they got only second pick of the 
booty.) The counterintelligence officer of the Forty-ninth Army 
who arrested me had a yen for my cigarette case—and it wasn’t 
even a cigarette case but a small German Army box, of a tempting 
scarlet, however. And because of that piece of shit he carried out 
a whole maneuver: As his first step, he omitted it from the list of 
belongings that were confiscated from me. (“You can keep it.”) 
He thereupon ordered me to be searched again, knowing all the 
time that it was all I had in my pockets. “Aha! what’s that? Take 
it away!” And to prevent my protests: “Put him in the punish¬ 
ment cell!” (What Tsarist gendarme would have dared behave 
that way toward a defender of the Fatherland?) 

Every interrogator was given an allowance of a certain number 
of cigarettes to encourage those willing to confess and to reward 
stool pigeons. Some of them kept all the cigarettes for themselves. 

Even in accounting for hours spent in interrogating, they used 
to cheat. They got higher pay for night work. And we used to 
note the way they wrote down more hotirs on the night interroga¬ 
tions than they really spent. 

Interrogator Fyodorov (Reshety Station, P. O. Box No. 235) 
stole a wristwatch while searching the apartment of the free person 
Korzukhin. During the Leningrad blockade Interrogator Nikolai 
Fyodorovich Kruzhkov told Yelizaveta Viktorovna Strakhovich, 
wife of the prisoner he was interrogating, K. I. Strakhovich: “I 
want a quilt. Bring it to me!” When she replied: “All oiur warm 
things are in the room they’ve sealed,” he went to her apart¬ 
ment and, without breaking the State Security seal on the lock, 
unscrewed the entire doorknob. “That’s how the MGB works,” 
he explained gaily. And he went in and began to collect the warm 
things, shoving some crystal in his pocket at the same time. She 
herself tried to get whatever she could out of the room, but he 
stopped her.“ “That’s enough for you!”—and he kept on raking 
in the booty. 

13. In 1954, although her husband, who had forgiven them everything, in¬ 
cluding a death sentence that had been commuted, kept trying to persuade her 
not to pursue the matter, this energetic and implacable woman testified against 
Kruzhkov at a trial. Because this was not Kruzhkov’s first offense, and because 
the interests of the Organs had been violated, he was given a twenty-five-year 
sentence. Has he really been in the jug that long? 


There’s no end to such cases. One could issue a thousand 
“White Papers” (and beginning in 1918 too). One would need 
only to question systematically former prisoners and their wives. 
Maybe there are and were bluecaps who never stole anything or 
appropriated anything for themselves—^but I find it impossible 
to imagine one. I simply do not understand: given the bluecaps’ 
philosophy of life, what was there to restrain them if they liked 
some particular thing? Way back at the beginning of the thirties, 
when all of us were marching around in the German uniforms of 
the Red Youth Front and were building the First Five-Year Plan, 
they were spending their evenings in salons like the one in the 
apartment of Konkordiya losse, behaving like members of the 
nobility or Westerners, and their lady friends were showing off 
their foreign clothes. Where were they getting those clothes? 

Here are their family names—and one might almost think 
they were hired because of those names. For example, in the 
Kemerovo Provincial State Security Administration, there were: 
a prosecutor named Trutnev, “drone”; a chief of the interroga¬ 
tion section Major Shkurkin, “self-server”; his deputy. Lieutenant 
Colonel Balandin, “soupy”; and an interrogator Skorokhvatov, 
“quick-grabber.” When all is said and done, one could not invent 
names more appropriate. And they were all right there together! 
(I need hardly bother to mention again Volkopyalov—“wolf- 
skin-stretcher”—or Grabishchenko—“plunderer.”) Are’ we to 
assume that nothing at all is expressed in people’s family names 
and such a concentration of them? 

Again the prisoner’s faulty memory. I. Korneyev has forgotten 
the name of the colonel of State Security who was also Kon¬ 
kordiya fosse’s friend (they both knew her, it turned out), who 
was in the Vladimir Detention Prison at the same time as 
Korneyev. This colonel was a living embodiment of the instincts 
for power and personal gain. At the beginning of 1945, during 
the height of the “war booty” period, he got himself assigned 
to that section of the Organs, headed by Abakumov himself, 
which was supposed to keep watch over the plundering—^in other 
words, they tried to grab off as much as possible for themselves, 
not for the state. (And succeeded brilliantly.) Our hero pulled 
in whole freight car loads and built several dachas, one of them 
in Klin. After the war he operated on such a scale that when he 
arrived at the Novosibirsk Station he ordered all the customers 

The Bluecaps \ 155 

chased out of the station restaurant and had girls and women 
rounded up and forced to dance naked on the tables to entertain 
him and his drinking companions. He would have gotten away 
with this too, but he violat^ another important rule. Like Kruzh¬ 
kov, he went against his own kind. Kruzhkov deceived the Organs. 
And this colonel did perhaps even worse. He laid bets on which 
wives he could seduce, and not just ordinary wives, but the 
wives of his colleagues in the Security police. And he was not 
forgiven! He was sentenced to a political prison under Article 
58, and was serving out his time fuming at their having dared to 
arrest him. He had no doubt they would change their minds. (And 
perhaps they did.) 

That dread fate —to be thrown into prison themselves—^was 
not such a rarity for the bluecaps. There was no genuine insur¬ 
ance against it. But somehow these men were slow to sense the les¬ 
sons of the past. Once again this was probably due to their hav¬ 
ing no higher powers of reason; their low-grade intellect would 
tell them: It happens only rarely; very few get caught; it may 
pass me by; my friends won’t let me down. 

Friends, as a matter of fact, did try not to leave their friends 
in a bad spot. They had their own unspoken understanding: at 
least to arrange favorable conditions for friends. (This was the 
case, for example, with Colonel I. Y. Vorobyev in the Marfino 
Special Prison, and with the same V. N. Hin who was in the 
Lubyanka for more than eight years.) Thanks to this caste spirit, 
those arrested singly, as a result of only personal shortcomings, 
usually did not do too badly. And that was how they were able 
to justify their sense of immunity from punishment in their day- 
to-day work in the service. But there were several known cases 
when camp Security officers were tossed into ordinary camps to 
serve out their sentences. There were even instances when as 
prisoners they ran into zeks who had once been under their thumb 
and came off badly in the encounter. For example. Security of¬ 
ficer Munshin, who cherished a particularly violent hatred toward 
the 58’s in camp and had relied heavily on the support of the 
blatnye, the habitual thieves, was driven right under the board 
bunks by those very same thieves. However, we have no way to 
learn more details about these cases in order to be able to explain 

But those gaybisty—the State Security officers—^who got 


caught in a wave were in very serious danger. (They had their own 
waves/) A wave is a natural catastrophe and is even more power¬ 
ful than the Organs themselves. In this situation, no one was going 
to help anyone else lest he be drawn into the same abyss him¬ 

The possibility did exist, however, if you were well informed 
and had a sharp Chekist sensitivity, of getting yourself out from 
under the avalanche, even at the last minute, by proving that you 
had no connection with it. Thus it was that Captain Sayenko (not 
the Kharkov Chekist carpenter of 1918-1919, who was famous 
for executing prisoners with his pistol, punching holes in bodies 
with his saber, breaking shinbones in two, flattening heads with 
weights, and branding people with hot irons,^^ but, perhaps, a rel¬ 
ative) was weak enough to marry for love an ex-employee of the 
Chinese Eastern Railroad named Kokhanskaya. And suddenly he 
found out, right at the beginning of the wave, that all the Chinese 
Eastern Railroad people were going to be arrested. At this time 
he was head of the Security Operations Department of the Arch¬ 
angel GPU. He acted without losing a moment. How? He arrested 
his own beloved wife! And not on the basis of her being one of 
the Chinese Eastern Railroad people—^but on the basis of a case 
he himself cooked up. Not only did he save himself, but he moved 
up and became the Chief of the Tomsk Province NKVD.^® 

The waves were generated by the Organs' hidden law of self¬ 
renewal —a small periodic ritual sacriflce so that the rest could 
take on the appearance of being purifled. The Organs had to 
change personnel faster than the normal rate of human growth 
and aging would ensure. Driven by that same implacable urgency 
that forces the sturgeon to swim upriver and perish in the shallows, 
to be replaced by schools of small fry, a certain number of 
“schools” of gaybisty had to sacriflce themselves. This law was 
easily apparent to a higher intelligence, but the bluecaps them¬ 
selves did not want to accept the fact of its existence and make 
provision for it. Yet, at the hour appointed in their stars, the 
kings of the Organs, the aces of the Organs, and even the minis¬ 
ters themselves laid their heads down beneath their own guil¬ 

14. Roman Gul, Dzerzhinsky, Menzhinsky — Peters — Latsis — Yagoda, Paris, 

15. This, too, is a theme for a story—and how many more there are in this 
field! Maybe someone will make use of them someday. 

The Bluecaps \ 157 

Yagoda took one such school of fish along with him. No doubt 
many of those ivhose glorious names we shall come to admire 
when we come to the White Sea Canal were taken in this school 
and their names thenceforward expunged from the poetic eulogies. 

Very shortly, a second school accompanied the short-lived 
Yezhov. Some of the finest cavaliers of 1937 vanished in this one. 
(Yet one ought not to exaggerate their number. It did not by any 
means include all the best.) Yezhov himself was beaten during 
his interrogation. He was pitiful. And Gulag was orphaned dur¬ 
ing this wave of arrests. For example, arrested with Yezhov were 
the Chief of the Financial Administration of Gulag, the Chief of 
the Medical Administration of Gulag, the Chief of the Guard 
Service of Gulag (VOKhR),‘® and even the Chief of the Security 
Operations Department of Gulag, who oversaw the work of the 
camp “godfathers.” 

And later there was the school of Beria. 

The corpulent, conceited Abakumov had fallen earlier, sepa¬ 

Someday—if the archives are not destroyed—^the historians 
of the Organs will recount all this step by step, with all the figures 
and all the glittering names. 

Therefore, I am going to write only briefly about Ryumin and 
Abakumov, a story I learned only by chance. I will not repeat 
what I have already written about them in The First Circle. 

Ryumin had been raised to the heights by Abakumov and was 
very close to him. At the end of 1952, he came to Abakumov with 
the sensational report that Professor Etinger, a physician, had 
confessed to intentional malpractice when treating Zhdanov and 
Shcherbakov, with the purpose of killing them. Abakumov re¬ 
fused to believe him. He knew the whole cookery and decided 
Ryumin was getting too big for his britches. (But Ryumin had a 
better idea of what Stalin wanted!) To verify the story, they 
arranged to cross-question Etinger that very evening. But each 
of them drew different conclusions from his testimony. Abakumov 
concluded that there was no such thing as a “doctors’ case.” And 
R)mmin concluded that there was. A second attempt at verifica¬ 
tion was to take place the following morning, but, thanks to the 
miraculous attributes of the Nighttime Institution, Etinger died 

16. VOKhR: Militarized Guard Service, formerly the Internal Guard Service 
of the Republic. 


that very night! In the morning, Ryumin, bypassing Abakumov 
and without his knowledge, telephoned the Central Committee 
and asked for an appointment with Stalin! (My own opinion, 
however, is that this was not his most decisive step. Ryumin’s 
decisive action, following which his life hung in the balance, was 
in not going along with Abakumov earlier. And perhaps in hav¬ 
ing Etinger killed that same night. Who knows the secrets of those 
courtyards! Had R)mmin’s contact with Stalin begun earlier 
perhaps?) Stalin received Ryumin, set in motion the “doctors’ 
case” and arrested Abakumov. From that point on it would seem 
that Ryumin conducted the “doctors’ case” independently of 
and even despite Beria! There were signs before Stalin’s death 
that Beria was in danger—and perhaps it was he who arranged 
to have Stalin done away with. One of the first acts of the new 
government was to dismiss the “doctors’ case.” At that time 
Ryumin was arrested (while Beria was still in power), but 
Abakumov was not released! At the Lubyanka a new order of 
things was introduced. And for the first time in its entire existence 
a prosecutor crossed its threshold—^D. Terekhov. Imprisoned, 
Ryumin was fidgety and subservient: “I am not guilty. I am here 
for no reason.” He asked to be interrogated. As was his custom, 
he was sucking a hard candy at the time, and when Terekhov 
rebuked him for it, he spat it out on the palm of his hand. “Pardon 
me.” As we have already reported, Abakumov roared with laugh¬ 
ter: “Hocus-pocus!” Terekhov showed him the document author¬ 
izing him to inspect the Internal Prison of the Ministry of State 
Security. Abakumov brushed it away: “You can forge five hun¬ 
dred of those!” As an organizational “patriot,” he was principally 
offended not by being in prison but by this encroachment on the 
power of the Organs, which could not be subordinate to anything 
in the world! In July, 1953, Ryumin was tried in Moscow and 
shot. And Abakumov remained in prison! During one interroga¬ 
tion he said to Terekhov: “Your eyes are too beautiful. I am 
going to be sorry to have to shoot you.t^’’ Leave my case alone. 
Leave it while you still have time.” On another occasion Terekhov 

17. This is true. On the whole, D. Terekhov is a man of uncommon strength 
of will and courage (which were what was required in bringing the big Stalinists 
to justice in an uneasy situation). And he evidently has a lively mind as well. 
If Khrushchev’s reforms had been more thoroughgoing and consistent, Tere¬ 
khov might have excelled in carrying them out. TTiat is how historic leaders fail 
to materialize in our country. 

The Bluecaps \ 159 

called him in and handed him the newspaper which carried the 
announcement of Beria’s exposure. At the time this was virtually 
a cosmic upheaval. Abakumov read it and, with not so much as 
the twitch of an eyebrow, he turned the page and started to read 
the sports news! On another occasion, during an interrogation in 
the presence of a high-ranking gaybist who had, in the recent past, 
been his subordinate, Abakumov asked him: “How could you 
have permitted the investigation of the Beria case to be con¬ 
ducted by the prosecutor’s office instead of by the MGB?” (Every¬ 
thing in his own domain kept nagging him.) He went on: “Do 
you really believe they are going to put me, the Minister of State 
Security, on trial?” The answer was “Yes.” And he replied: “Then 
put on your top hat! The Organs are finished!” (He was, of course, 
too pessimistic, uneducated courier that he was.) But when he 
was in the Lubyanka, Abakumov was not afraid of being tried; 
he was afraid of being poisoned. (This, too, showed what a worthy 
son of the Organs he was!) He started to reject the prison food 
altogether and would eat only eggs that he bought from the prison 
store. (In this case, he simply lacked technical imagination. He 
thought one couldn’t poison eggs.) The only books he borrowed 
from the well-stocked Lubyanka library were the works of, believe 
it or not, Stalin! (Who had imprisoned him.) But in all likelihood 
this was for show rather than the result of any calculation that 
Stalin’s adherents would gain power. He spent two years in prison. 
Why didn’t they release him? The question is not a naive one. In 
terms of his crimes against humanity, he was over his head in 
blood. But he was not the only one! And all the others came out 
of it safe and sound. There is some hidden secret here too: there 
is a vague rumor that in his time he had personally beaten 
Khrushchev’s daughter-in-law Lyuba Sedykh, the wife of Khru¬ 
shchev’s older son, who had been condemned to a punishment bat¬ 
talion in Stalin’s time and who died as a result. And, so goes the 
rumor, this was why, having been imprisoned by Stalin, he was 
tried—in Leningrad—under Khrushchev and shot on December 
18, 1954.^® But Abakumov had no real reason to be depressed: 
the Organs still didn’t perish because of that. 

18. Here is one more of his eccentricities as a VIP: he used to change into 
civilian clothes and walk around Moscow with Kuznetsov, the head of his 
bodyguard, and whenever he felt like it, he would hand out money from the 
Cheka operations funds. Does not this smell of Old Russia—charity for the sake 
of one’s soul? 


As the folk saying goes: If you speak for the wolf, speak against 
him as well. 

Where did this wolf-tribe appear from among our people? 
Does it really stem from our own roots? Our own blood? 

It is our own. 

And just so we don’t go around flaunting too proudly the white 
mantle of the just, let everyone ask himself: “If my life had turned 
out differently, might I myself not have become just such an ex¬ 

It is a dreadful question if one really answers it honestly. 

I remember my third year at the university, in the fall of 1938. 
We young men of the Komsomol were summoned before the Dis¬ 
trict Komsomol Committee not once but twice. Scarcely bothering 
to ask our consent, they shoved an application form at us: You’ve 
had enough physics, mathematics, and chemistry; it’s more im¬ 
portant to your country for you to enter the NKVD school. 
(That’s the way it always is. It isn’t just some person who needs 
you; it is always your Motherland. And it is always some official 
or other who speaks on behalf of your Motherland and who 
knows what she needs.) 

One year before, the District Committee had conducted a drive 
among us to recruit candidates for the air force schools. We 
avoided getting involved that time too, because we didn’t want 
to leave the university—^but we didn’t sidestep recruitment then 
as stubbornly as we did this time. 

Twenty-five years later we could think: Well, yes, we under¬ 
stood the sort of arrests that were being made at the time, and 
the fact that they were torturing people in prisons, and the slime 
they were trying to drag us into. But it isn’t true! After all, the 
Black Marias were going through the streets at night, and we 
were the same young people who were parading with banners 
during the day. How could we know an)dhing about those arrests 
and why should we think about them? All the provincial leaders 
had been removed, but as far as we were concerned it didn’t mat¬ 
ter. Two or three professors had been arrested, but after all they 
hadn’t been our dancing partners, and it might even be easier 

The Bluecaps \ 161 

to pass our exams as a result. Twenty-year-olds, we marched in 
the ranks of those bom the year the Revolution took place, and 
because we were the same age as the Revolution, the brightest of 
futures lay ahead. 

It would be hard to identify the exact source of that inner 
intuition, not founded on rational argument, which prompted our 
refusal to enter the NKVD schools. It certainly didn’t derive from 
the lectures on historical materialism we listened to: it was clear 
from them that the struggle against the internal enemy was a 
crucial battlefront, and to share in it was an honorable task. Our 
decision even ran counter to our material interests: at that time 
the provincial university we attended could not promise us any¬ 
thing more than the chance to teach in a rural school in a remote 
area for miserly wages. The NKVD school dangled before us 
special rations and double or triple pay. Our feelings could not be 
put into words—and even if we had found the words, fear would 
have prevented our speaking them aloud to one another. It was 
not our minds that resisted but something inside our breasts. Peo¬ 
ple can shout at you from all sides: “You must!” And your own 
head can be saying also: “You must!” But inside your breast there 
is a sense of revulsion, repudiation. I don’t want to. It makes me 
feel sick. Do what you want without me; I want no part of it. 

This came from very far back, quite likely as far back as 
Lermontov, from those decades of Russian life when frankly and 
openly there was no worse and no more vile branch of the service 
for a decent person than that of the gendarmerie. No, it went back 
even further. Without even knowing it ourselves, we were ran¬ 
somed by the small change in copper that was left from the golden 
coins our great-grandfathers had expended, at a time when moral¬ 
ity was not considered relative and when the distinction between 
good and evil was very simply perceived by the heart. 

Still, some of us were recruited at that time, and I think that 
if they had really put the pressure on, they could have broken 
everybody’s resistance. So I would like to imagine: if, by the time 
war broke out, I had already been wearing an NKVD officer’s 
insignia on my blue tabs, what would I have become? Nowadays, 
of coiurse, I can console myself by saying that my heart wouldn’t 
have stood it, that I would have objected and at some point 
slammed the door. But later, lying on a prison bunk, I began to 


look back over my actual career as an officer and I was horrified. 

I did not move in one stride from being a student worn out by 
mathematics to officer’s rank. Before becoming an officer I spent 
a half-year as a downtrodden soldier. And one might think I 
would have gotten through my thick skull what it was like always 
to obey people who were perhaps not worthy of your obedience 
and to do it on a hungry stomach to boot. Then for another half- 
year they tore me to pieces in officer candidate school. So I ought 
to have grasped, once and for all, the bitterness of service as a 
rank-and-file soldier and remembered how my hide froze and how 
it was flayed from my body. But did I? Not at all. For consolation, 
they pinned two little stars on my shoulder boards, and then a 
third, and then a fourth. And I forgot every bit of what it had been 

Had I at least kept my student’s love of freedom? But, you see, 
we had never had any such thing. Instead, we loved forming up, 
we loved marches. 

I remember very well that right after officer candidate school 
I experienced the happiness of simplification, of being a military 
man and not having to think things through; the happiness of 
being immersed in the life everyone else lived, that was accepted 
in our military milieu; the happiness of forgetting some of the 
spiritual subtleties inculcated since childhood. 

We were constantly hungry in that school and kept looking 
around to see where we could grab an extra bite, and we watched 
one another enviously to see who was the cleverest. But most of 
all we were afraid we wouldn’t manage to stay in until the time 
came to graduate and receive our officer’s insignia. (They sent 
those who failed to the battle for Stalingrad.) And they trained 
us like young beasts, so as to infuriate us to the point where we 
would later want to take it out on someone else. We never got 
enough sleep because after taps, as punishment, we might be 
forced to go through the drill alone under the eyes of a sergeant. 
Or the entire squad might be routed out at night and made to 
form up because of one uncleaned boot: there he is, the bastard, 
and he’ll keep on cleaning it, and until he gets a shine on it you’re 
all going to stay standing there. 

In passionate anticipation of those insignia, we developed a 
tigerlike stride and a metallic voice of command. 

The Bluecaps \ 163 

Then the officer’s stars were fastened on our tabs. And only 
one month later, forming up my battery in the rear, I ordered a 
careless soldier named Berbenyev to march up and down after 
taps under the eyes of my insubordinate Sergeant Metlin. (And 
do you know, I had forgotten all about it until now. I honestly 
forgot about it for years! Only now, seated in front of this sheet 
of paper, have I remembered.) Some elderly colonel, who was an 
inspector, happened to be there, and he called me in and put me 
to shame. And I (and this after I’d left the university!) tried to 
justify my action on the grounds that it was what we had been 
taught in school. In other words, I meant: What humane views 
can there be, given the fact that we are in the army? 

(And the more so in the Organs.) 

Pride grows in the human heart like lard on a pig. 

I tossed out orders to my subordinates that I would not allow 
them to question, convinced that no orders could be wiser. Even 
at the front, where, one might have thought, death made equals of 
us all, my power soon convinced me that I was a superior human 
being. Seated there, I heard them out as they stood at attention. 
I interrupted them. I issued commands. I addressed fathers and 
grandfathers with the familiar, downgrading form of address— 
while they, of course, addressed me formally. I sent them out to 
repair wires under shellfire so that my superiors should not re¬ 
proach me. (Andreyashin died that way.) I ate my officer’s 
ration of butter with rolls, without giving a thought as to why I 
had a right to it, and why the rank-and-file soldiers did not. I, of 
course, had a personal servant assigned to me—^in polite terms, an 
“orderly”—^whom I badgered one way or another and ordered 
to look after my person and prepare my meals separately from the 
soldiers’. (After all, the Lubyanka interrogators don’t have order¬ 
lies—^that’s one thing you can’t say about them.) I forced my 
soldiers to put their backs into it and dig me a special dugout at 
every new bivouac and to haul the heaviest beams to support it 
so that I should be as comfortable and safe as possible. And wait 
a minute, yes, my battery always had a guardhouse too. What 
kind of guardhouse could there be in the woods? It was a pit, of 
course, although a better one than those at the Gorokhovets 
division camps which I have described, because it had a roof and 
the man confined got a soldier’s ration. Vyushkov was imprisoned 


there for losing his horse and Popkov for maltreating his carbine. 
Yes, just a moment, I can remember more. They sewed me a map 
case out of German hide—^not hmnan, but from a car seat. But I 
didn’t have a strap for it, and I was unhappy about that. Then all 
of a sudden they saw some partisan commissar, from the local 
District Party Committee, wearing just the right kind of strap— 
and they took it away from him: we are the army; we have sen¬ 
iority! (Remember Senchenko, the Security officer, who stole a 
map case and a dispatch case?) Finally, I coveted that scarlet 
box, and I remember how they took it away and got if for me. 

That’s what shoulder boards do to a human being. And where 
have all the exhortations of grandmother, standing before an 
ikon, gone! And where the young Pioneer’s daydreams of future 
sacred Equality! 

And at the moment when my life was turned upside down and 
the SMERSH officers at the brigade command point tore off those 
cursed shoulder boards, and took my belt away and shoved me 
along to their automobile, I was pierced to the quick by worrying 
how, in my stripped and sorry state, I was going to make my way 
through the telephone operator’s room. The rank and file must 
not see me in that condition! 

The day after my arrest my march of penance began: the most 
recent “catch” was always sent from the army counterintelligence 
center to the counterintelligence headquarters of the front. They 
herded us on foot from Osterode to Brodnica. 

When they led me out of the punishment cell, there were al¬ 
ready seven prisoners there in tffiee and a half pairs standing 
with their backs to me. Six of them had on well-worn Russian 
Army overcoats which had been around for a long time, and on 
their backs had been painted, in indelible white paint, “SU,” 
meaning “Soviet Union.” I already knew that mark, having seen 
it more than once on the backs of our Russian BOW’S as they 
wandered sadly and guiltily toward the army that was approach¬ 
ing to iree them. They had been freed, but there was no shared 
happiness in that liberation. Their compatriots glowered at them 
even more grimly than at the Germans. And as soon as they 
crossed the front lines, they were arrested and imprisoned. 

The seventh prisoner was a German civilian in a black three- 

The Bluecaps \ 165 

piece suit, a black overcoat, and black hat. He was over fifty, 
tall, well groomed, and his white face had been nurtured on 
gentleman’s food. 

I completed the fourth pair, and the Tatar sergeant, chief 
of the convoy, gestured to me to pick up my sealed suitcase, 
which stood off to one side. It contained my officer’s equipment 
as weU as all the papers which had been seized as evidence when 
I was arrested. 

What did he mean, carry my suitcase? He, a sergeant, wanted 
me, an officer, to pick up my suitcase and carry it? A large, heavy 
object? Despite the new regulations? While beside me six men 
from the ranks would be marching empty-handed? And one 
representative of a conquered nation? 

I did not express Ibis whole complex set of ideas to the 
sergeant. I merely said: “I am an officer. Let the German carry 

None of the prisoners turned around at my words: turning 
around was forbidden. Only my mate in the fourth pair, also an 
“SU,” looked at me in astonishment. (When he had been cap¬ 
tured, our army wasn’t yet like that.) 

But the sergeant from counterintelligence was not surprised. 
Even though I was not, of course, an officer in his eyes, still his 
indoctrination and mine coincided. He summoned die iimocent 
German and ordered him to carry the suitcase. It was just as 
well the latter had not understood our conversation. 

The rest of us put our hands behind our backs. The former 
POW’s did not have even one bag among them. They had left the 
Motherland with empty hands and that is exactly how they re¬ 
turned to her. So our column marched off, four pairs in file. We 
did not converse with our convoy. And it was absolutely forbid¬ 
den to talk among ourselves whether on the march, during a halt, 
or at overnight stops. As accused prisoners we were required to 
move as though separated by invisible partitions, as though suf¬ 
focated, each in his own solitary-confinement ceU. 

The early spring weather was changeable. At times a thin 
mist hung in the air, and even on the firm highway the liquid mud 
squelched dismally beneath our boots. At times the heavens 
cleared and the soft yellow sun, still uncertain of its talent, 
warmed the already thawing hillocks and showed us with perfect 

166 1 THE guCag archipelago 

clarity the world we were about to leave. At times a hostile squall 
flew to the attack and tore from the black clouds a snow that was 
not really even white, which beat icily on faces and backs and 
feet, soaWng through our overcoats and our footcloths. 

Six backs ahead of me, six constant backs. There was more 
than enough time to examine and re-examine the crooked, hide¬ 
ous brands “SU” and the shiny black cloth on the German’s back. 
There was more than enough time to reconsider my former life 
and to comprehend my present one. But I couldn’t. I had been 
smashed on the head with an oak club—^but I still didn’t com¬ 

Six backs! There was neither approval nor condemnation in 
their swing. 

The German soon tired. He shiited the suitcase from hand to 
hand, grabbed at his heart, made signs to the convoy that he 
couldn’t carry it any further. At that point his neighbor in the 
pair, a POW who only a little while before had experienced God 
knows what in German captivity (but, perhaps, mercy too), took 
the suitcase of his own free wiU and carried it. 

After that the other TOW’S carried it in turn, also without 
being ordered to; and then the German again. 

All but me. 

And no one said a word to me. 

At one point we met a long string of empty carts. The drivers 
studied us with interest, and some of them jumped up to full 
height on top of the carts and stared. I understood very quickly 
that their stares and their malice were directed toward me. I 
was very sharply set off from the others: my coat was new, long, 
and cut to fit my figure snugly. My tabs had not yet been torn off, 
and in the filtered sunlight my buttons, also not cut off, burned 
with the glitter of cheap gold. It was easy to see I was an officer, 
with a look of newness, too, and newly taken into custody. Per¬ 
haps this very fall from the heights stimulated them and gave 
them pleasure, suggesting some gleam of justice, but more likely 
they could not get it into their heads, stuffed with political in¬ 
doctrination, that one of their own company commanders could 
be arrested in this way, and they all decided unanimously I had 
come from the other side. 

“Aha, the Vlasov bastard got caught, did he! Shoot the rat!” 

The Bluecaps | 167 

They were vehement in their rear-line wrath (the most intense 
patriotism always flourishes in the rear), and they added a good 
deal more in mother oaths. 

They regarded me as some kind of international operator who 
had, nonetheless, been caught—and as a result the advance at 
the front would move along faster and the war would come to an 
end sooner. 

How was I to answer them? I was forbidden to utter a single 
word, and I would have had to explain my entire life to each and 
every one of them. What could I do to make them understand 
that I was not a spy, a saboteur? That I was their friend? That it 
was because of them that I was here? I smiled. Looking up at 
them, I smiled at them from a column of prisoners under escort! 
But my bared teeth seemed to them the worst kind of mockery, 
and they shook their fists and bellowed insults at me even more 
violently than before. 

I smiled in pride that I had been arrested not for stealing, nor 
treason, nor desertion, but because I had discovered through my 
power of reasoning the evil secrets of Stalin. I smiled at the 
thought that I wanted, and might still be able, to effect some small 
remedies and changes in our Russian way of life. 

But all that time my suitcase was being carried by others. 

And I didn’t even feel remorseful about it! And if my neighbor, 
whose sunken cheeks were already covered with a soft two-week 
growth of beard and whose eyes were filled to overflowing with 
suffering and knowledge, had then and there reproached me in 
the clearest of clear Russian words for having disgraced the honor 
of a prisoner by appealing to the convoy for help and had accused 
me of haughtiness, of setting myself above the rest of them, I 
would not have understood him! I simply would not have under¬ 
stood what he was talking about, I was an officer! 

And if seven of us had to die on the way, and the eighth could 
have been saved by the convoy, what was to keep me from crying 
out: “Sergeant! Save me. I am an officer!” 

And that’s what an officer is even when his shoulder boards 
aren’t blue! 

And if they are blue? If he has been indoctrinated to believe 
that even among other officers he is the salt of the earth? And 
that he knows more than others and is entrusted with more res- 


ponsibility than others and that, consequently, it is his duty to 
force a prisoner’s head between his legs, and then to shove him 
like that into a pipe ... 

Why shouldn’t he? 

I credited myself with unselfish dedication. But meanwhile I 
had been thoroughly prepared to be an executioner . And if I had 
gotten into an NKVD school under Yezhov, maybe I would have 
matured just in time for Beria. 

So let the reader who expects this book to be a political expos6 
slam its covers shut right now. 

If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people 
somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were neces¬ 
sary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. 
But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of 
every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his 
own heart? 

During the life of any heart this line keeps changing place; 
sometimes it is squeezed one way by exuberant evil and some¬ 
times it shifts to allow enough space for good to flourish. One 
and the same human being is, at various ages, under various cir¬ 
cumstances, a totally different human being. At times he is close 
to being a devil, at times to sainthood. But his name doesn’t 
change, and to that name we ascribe the whole lot, good and evil. 

Socrates taught us: Know thyself! 

Confronted by the pit into which we are about to toss those 
who have done us harm, we halt, stricken dumb: it is after all 
only because of the way things worked out that they were the 
executioners and we weren’t. 

If Malyuta Skuratov had summoned us, we, too, probably 
would have done our work well! 

From good to evil is one quaver, says the proverb. 

And correspondingly, from evil to good. 

From the moment when our society was convulsed by the 
reminder of those illegalities and tortures, they began on all 
sides to explain, to write, to protest: Good people were there too 
—^meaning in the NKVD-MGB! 

We know which “good” people they are talking about: they 
were the ones who whispered to the old Bolsheviks: “Don’t 
weaken,” or even sneaked a sandwich in to them, and who 
kicked aU the rest around wherever they found them. But 

The Bluecaps | 169 

weren’t there also some who rose above the Party—^who were 
good in a general, human sense? 

Broadly speaking, they should not have been there. The Organs 
avoided employing such people, eliminating them at the recruit¬ 
ment stage. And such people played their hand shrewdly so as 
to get out of it.^® Whoever got in by mistake either adjusted to 
the milieu or else was thrown out, or eased out, or even fell 
across the rails himself. Still. . . were there no good people left 

In Kishinev, a young lieutenant gaybist went to Father Viktor 
Shipovalnikov a full month before he was arrested: “Get away 
from here, go away, they plan to arrest you!” (Did he do this on 
his own, or did his mother send him to warn the priest?) After 
the arrest, this young man was assigned to Father Viktor as an 
escort guard. And he grieved for him: “Why didn’t you go 

Or here’s another. I had a platoon commander named Lieuten¬ 
ant Ovsyannikov. At the front no one was closer to me than he 
was. During half the war we ate from the same pot; even under 
enemy shellfire we would gulp down our food between explosions, 
so the stew wouldn’t get cold. He was a peasant lad with a clean 
soul and a view of life so undistorted that neither officer candidate 
school nor being an officer had spoiled him in any degree. He even 
did what he could to soften my hard edges in many ways. 
Throughout his service as an officer he concentrated on one thing 
only: preserving the lives and strength of his soldiers, many of 
whom were no longer young. He was the first to tell me what the 
Russian villages were like then and what the collective farms were 
like. He talk^ about all this without resentment, without protest, 
very simply and straightforwardly—just as a forest pool reflects 
the image of a tree and all its branches, even the smallest. He was 
deeply shocked by my arrest. He wrote me a combat reference 
containing the highest praise and got the divisional commander 
to sign it. After he was demobilized he continued to try to help 
me, through my relatives. And this, mind you, was in 1947, which 
was not very different from 1937. At my interrogation I had 
many reasons to be afraid on his account, especially lest they 

19. During the war, a certain Leningrad aviator, after being discharged from 
the hospital in Ryazan, went to a TB clinic and begged: “Please find something 
wrong with me! I’m under orders to go into the OrgansP* The radiologists 
dreamed up a touch of TB for him—and the Organs dropped him posthaste. 


read my “War Diary,” which contained the stories he’d told me. 
When I was rehabilitated in 1957,1 very much wanted to find him. 
I remembered his village address and wrote once, and then again, 
but there was no reply. I discovered one thread I could follow— 
that he had graduated from the Yaroslavl Pedagogical Institute. 
When I inquired there, they replied: “He was sent to work in the 
Organs of State Security.” Fine! AU the more interesting! I wrote 
to him at his city address, but there was no reply. Several years 
passed and Ivan Denisovich was published. Well, I thought, now 
he’ll turn up. No! Three years later I asked one of my Yaroslavl 
correspondents to go to him and personally hand him a letter. My 
correspondent did as I asked and wrote me; “Evidently he has 
never read Ivan Denisovich" And truly, why should they know 
how things go with prisoners after they’ve been sentenced? This 
time Ovsyannikov couldn’t keep silent any longer. He wrote; 
“After the Institute they offered me work in the Organs, and it 
seemed to me I would be just as successful there.” (What did he 
mean, successful?) “I cannot say that I have prospered remark¬ 
ably in my new walk of life. There are some things I did not like, 
but I work hard, and, if I am not mistaken, I shall not let my 
comrades down.” (And that’s the justification—comradeship!) 
He ended; “I no longer think about the future.” 

And that is all. Allegedly, he had not received my previous 
letters. Evidently, he doesn’t want to see me. (But if we had met, 
I think this would have been a better chapter.) In Stalin’s last 
years he had already become an interrogator—during those very 
years when they handed out a twenty-five-year sentence to every¬ 
one who came along. How did everything in his consciousness 
recircuit itself? How did everything black out? But remembering 
the once selfless, dedicated boy, as fresh as spring water, can I 
possibly believe that everything in him changed beyond recall, 
that there are no living tendrils left? 

When the interrogator Goldman gave Vera Korneyeva the 
“206” form on nondisclosure to sign, she began to catch on to 
her rights, and then she began to go into the case in detail, involv¬ 
ing as it did all seventeen members of their “religious group.” 
Goldman raged, but he had to let her study the file. In order not 
to be bored waiting for her, he led her to a large office, where 
half a dozen employees were sitting, and left her there. At first 

The Bluecaps \ 171 

she read quietly, but then a conversation began—^perhaps because 
the others were bored—and Vera launched aloud into a real 
religious sermon. (One would have had to know her to ap¬ 
preciate this to the full. She was a luminous person, with a 
lively mind and a gift of eloquence, even though in freedom she 
had been no more than a lathe operator, a stable girl, and a 
housewife.) They listened to her impressively, now and then ask¬ 
ing questions in order to clarify something or other. It was catch¬ 
ing them from an unexpected side of things. People came in from 
other offices, and the room filled up. Even though they were only 
typists, stenographers, file clerks, and not interrogators, in 1946 
this was still their milieu, the Organs. It is impossible to recon¬ 
struct her monologue. She managed to work in all sorts of things, 
including the question of “traitors of the Motherland.” Why were 
there no traitors, in the 1812 War of the Fatherland, when there 
was still serfdom? It would have been natural to have traitors 
then! But mostly she spoke about religious faith and religious 
believers. Formerly, she declared, unbridled passions were the 
basis for everything—“Steal the stolen goods”—and, in that state 
of affairs, religious believers were naturally a hindrance to you. 
But now, when you want to build and prosper in this world, why 
do you persecute your best citizens? They represent your most 
precious material: after all, believers don’t need to be watched, 
they do not steal, and they do not shirk. Do you think you can 
build a just society on a foundation of self-serving and envious 
people? Everything in the country is falling apart. Why do you 
spit in the hearts of your best people? Separate church and state 
properly and do not touch the church; you will not lose a thing 
thereby. Are you materialists? In that case, put your faith in 
education—^in the possibility that it will, as they say, disperse 
religious faith. But why arrest people? At this point Goldman 
came in and started to interrupt rudely. But everyone shouted at 
him; “Oh, shut up! Keep quiet! Go ahead, woman, talk.” (And 
how should they have addressed her? Citizeness? Comrade? 
Those forms of address were forbidden, and these people were 
bound by the conventions of Soviet life. But “woman”—that was 
how Christ had spoken, and you couldn’t go wrong there.) And 
Vera continued in the presence of her interrogator. 

So there in the MGB office those people listened to Korneyeva 


—and why did the words of an insignificant prisoner touch them 
so near the quick? 

That same D. Terekhov I mentioned earlier remembers to this 
day the first prisoner he sentenced to death. “I was sorry for him.” 
His memory obviously clings to something that came from his 
heart. (But after that first one, he forgot many and no longer 
kept count any more.)®® 

No matter how icy the jailers in the Big House in Leningrad, 
the innermost nucleus of the nucleus of the heart—^for a nucleus 
has its own nucleus—^had to continue to exist, did it not? 
N. P-^va recalls the time when she was being taken to inter¬ 

rogation by an impassive, silent woman guard with unseeing eyes 
—^when suddenly the bombs began to explode right next to the 
Big House and it sounded as if at the next moment they would 
fall directly on them. The terrified guard threw her arms around 
her prisoner and embraced her, desperate for human companion¬ 
ship and sympathy. Then the bombing stopped. And her eyes 
became unseeing again. “Hands behind your back! Move along.” 

Well, of course, there was no great merit in that—to become 
a human being at the moment of death. Similarly, loving one’s 
own children is no proof of virtue. (People often try to excuse 
scoundrels by saying: “He’s a good family man!”) The Chairman 
of the Supreme Court, I. T. Golyakov, is praised: he enjoyed 
digging in his garden, he loved books, he us^ to browse around 
used- and rare-book stores, he knew the work of Tolstoi, Koro¬ 
lenko, and Chekhov. Well, what did he learn from them? How 
many thousands did he destroy? Or, for example, that colonel, 
Konkordiya fosse’s friend, who had roared with laughter in the 
Vladimir Detention Prison at the memory of locking up a group 
of old Jews in an ice-filled root cellar, had been afraid of one 
thing only during all his debaucheries: that his wife might find 
out about them. She believed in him, regarded him as noble, and 
this faith of hers was precious to him. But do we dare accept that 
feeling as a bridgehead to virtue in his heart? 

20. An episode with Terekhov: Attempting to prove to me the fairness of the 
judicial system under Khrushchev, he energetically struck the plate-glass desk 
top with his hand and cut his wrist on the edge. He rang for help. His subordi¬ 
nates were at the ready. The senior officer on duty brought him iodine and 
hydrogen peroxide. Continuing the conversation, he helplessly held dampened 
cotton to the wound: it appears that his blood coagulates poorly. And thus 
God showed him clearly the limitations of the human being! And he had de¬ 
livered verdicts, imposed death sentences on others. 

The Bluecaps \ 173 

And why is it that for nearly two hundred years the Security 
forces have hung onto the color of the heavens? That was what 
they wore in Lermontov’s lifetime—“and you, blue uniforms!” 
Then came blue service caps, blue shoulder boards, blue tabs, and 
then they were ordered to make themselves less conspicuous, 
and the blue brims were hidden from the gratitude of the people 
and everything blue on heads and shoulders was made narrower 
—imtil what was left was piping, narrow rims . . . but stiU blue. 

Is this only a masquerade? 

Or is it that even blackness must, every so often, however 
rarely, partake of the heavens? 

It would be beautiful to think so. But when one learns, for 
example, the nature of Yagoda’s striving toward the sacred . . . 
An eyewitness from the group around Gorky, who was close to 
Yagoda at the time, reports that in the vestibule of the bathhouse 
on Yagoda’s estate near Moscow, ikons were placed so that 
Yagoda and his cotorades, after undressing, could use them as 
targets for revolver practice before going in to take their baths. 

Just how are we to understand that? As the act of an evildoer? 
What sort of behavior is it? Do such people really exist? 

We would prefer to say that such people cannot exist, that 
there aren’t any. It is permissible to portray evildoers in a story 
for children, so as to keep the picture simple. But when the great 
world literature of the past—Shakespeare, Schiller, Dickens—^in¬ 
flates and inflates images of evildoers of the blackest shades, it 
seems somewhat farcical and clumsy to our contemporary per¬ 
ception. The trouble lies in the way these classic e^doers are 
pictured. They recognize themselves as evildoers, and they know 
their souls are black. And they reason: “I cannot live unless I do 
evil. So I’ll set my father against my brother! I’ll drink the vic¬ 
tim’s sufferings until I’m drunk with them!” lago very precisely 
identifies his purposes and his motives as being black and bom 
of hate. 

But no; that’s not the way it is! To do evil a human being must 
first of all believe that what he’s doing is good, or else that it’s a 
well-considered act in conformity with natural law. Fortunately, 
it is in the nature of the human being to seek a justification for his 

Macbeth’s self-justifications were feeble—and his conscience 
devoured him. Yes, even lago was a little lamb too. The imagina- 


tion and the spiritual strength of Shakespeare’s evildoers stopped 
short at a dozen corpses. Because they had no ideology. 

Ideology—that is what gives evildoing its long-sought justifica¬ 
tion and gives the evildoer the necessary steadfastness and deter¬ 
mination. That is the social theory which helps to make his acts 
seem good instead of bad in his own and others’ eyes, so that he 
won’t hear reproaches and curses but will receive praise and 
honors. That was how the agents of the Inquisition fortified their 
wills: by invoking Christianity; the conquerors of foreign lands, 
by extolling the grandeur of their Motherland; the colonizers, by 
civilization; the Nazis, by race; and the Jacobins (early and late), 
by equality, brotherhood, and the happiness of future generations. 

Thanks to ideology, the twentieth century was fated to experi¬ 
ence evildoing on a scale calculated in the millions. This cannot 
be denied, nor passed over, nor suppressed. How, then, do we 
dare insist that evildoers do not exist? And who was it that de¬ 
stroyed these millions? Without evildoers there would have been 
no Archipelago. 

There was a rumor going the rounds between 1918 and 1920 
that the Petrograd Cheka, headed by Uritsky, and the Odessa 
Cheka, headed by Deich, did not shoot all those condemned to 
death but fed some of them alive to the animals in the city zoos. 
I do not know whether this is truth or calumny, or, if there were 
any such cases, how many there were. But I wouldn’t set out to 
look for proof, either. Following the practice of the bluecaps, I 
would propose that they prove to us that this was impossible. 
How else could they get food for the zoos in those famine years? 
Take it away from the working class? Those enemies were going 
to die anyway, so why couldn’t their deaths support the zoo 
economy of the Republic and thereby assist our march into the 
future? Wasn’t it expedient? 

That is the precise line the Shakespearean evildoer could not 
cross. But the evildoer with ideology does cross it, and his eyes 
remain dry and clear. 

Physics is aware of phenomena which occiu: only at threshold 
magnitudes, which do not exist at all until a certain threshold 
encoded by and known to nature has been crossed. No matter 
how intense a yellow light you shine on a lithium sample, it will 
not emit electrons. But as soon as a weak bluish light begins to 
glow, it does emit them. (The threshold of the photoelectric effect 

The Bluecaps \ 175 

has been crossed.) You can cool oxygen to 100 degrees below 
zero Centigrade and exert as much pressure as you want; it does 
not yield, but remains a gas. But as soon as minus 183 degrees is 
reached, it liquefies and begins to fiow. 

Evidently evildoing also has a threshold magnitude. Yes, a 
human being hesitates and bobs back and forth between good 
and evil all his life. He slips, falls back, clambers up, repents, 
things begin to darken again. But just so long as the threshold of 
evildoing is not crossed, the possibility of returning remains, and 
he himself is still within reach of our hope. But when, through 
the density of evil actions, the result either of their own extreme 
degree or of the absoluteness of his power, he suddenly crosses 
that threshold, he has left humanity behind, and without, perhaps, 
the possibility of return. 

From the most ancient times justice has been a two-part concept: 
virtue triumphs, and vice is punished. 

We have been fortunate enough to live to a time when virtue, 
though it does not triumph, is nonetheless not always tormented 
by attack dogs. Beaten down, sickly, virtue has now been allowed 
to enter in all its tatters and sit in the comer, as long as it doesn’t 
raise its voice. 

However, no one dares say a word about vice. Yes, they did 
mock virtue, but there was no vice in that. Yes, so-and-so many 
millions did get mowed down—^but no one was to blame for it. 
And if someone pipes up: “What about those who ...” the answer 
comes from all sides, reproachfully and amicably at first: “What 
are you talking about, comrade! Why open old woundsT'^^ 
Then they go after you with an oaken club: “Shut up! Haven’t 
you had enough yet? You think you’ve been rehabilitated!” 

In that same period, by 1966, eighty-six thousand Nazi crimi¬ 
nals had been convicted in West Germany.®^ And still we choke 

21. Even in connection with One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, the 
retired bluecaps living on pensions objected because the book might reopen 
the wounds of those who had been imprisoned in camp. Allegedly, they were the 
ones to be protected. 

22. Meanwhile, in East Germany, nothing of the sort is to be heard. Which 
means that there they have been shod with new shoes; they are valued in the 
service of the state. 


with anget here. We do not hesitate to devote to the subject page 
after newspaper page and hour after hour of radio time. We even 
stay after work to attend protest meetings and vote: “Too few! 
Eighty-six thousand are too few. And twenty years is too little! 
It must go on and on.” 

And during the same period, in our own country (according 
to the reports of the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court) 
about ten men have been convicted. 

What takes place beyond the Oder and the Rhine gets us all 
worked up. What goes on in the environs of Moscow and behind 
the green fences near Sochi, or the fact that the murderers of our 
husbands and fathers ride through our streets and we make way 
for them as they pass, doesn’t get us worked up at all, doesn’t 
touch us. That would be “digging up the past.” 

Meanwhile, if we translate 86,000 West Germans into our own 
terms, on the basis of comparative population figures, it would 
become one-quarter of a million. 

But in a quarter-century we have not tracked down anyone. 
We have not brought anyone to trial. It is their wounds we are 
afraid to reopen. And as a symbol of them aU, the smug and 
stupid Molotov lives on at Granovsky No. 3, a man who has 
learned nothing at all, even now, though he is saturated with 
our blood and nobly crosses the sidewalk to seat himself in his 
long, wide automobile. 

Here is a riddle not for us contemporaries to figure out: Why 
is Germany allowed to punish its evildoers and Russia is not? 
What kind of disastrous path lies ahead of us if we do not have 
the chance to purge ourselves of that putrefaction rotting inside 
our body? What, then, can Russia teach the world? 

In the German trials an astonishing phenomenon takes place 
from time to time. The defendant clasps his head in his hands, 
refuses to make any defense, and from then on asks no conces¬ 
sions from the court. He says that the presentation of his crimes, 
revived and once again confronting him, has filled him with 
revulsion and he no longer wants to live. 

That is the ultimate height a trial can attain: when evil is so 
utterly condemned that even the criminal is revolted by it. 

A country which has condemned evil 86,000 times from the 
rostrum of a court and irrevocably condemned it in literature 

The Bluecaps \ 111 

and among its young people, year by year, step by step, is purged 
of it. 

What are we to do? Someday our descendants will describe 
our several generations as generations of driveling do-nothings. 
First we submissively allowed them to massacre us by the mil¬ 
lions, and then with devoted concern we tended the murderers 
in their prosperous old age. 

What are we to do if the great Russian tradition of penitence 
is incomprehensible and absurd to them? What are we to do if 
the animal terror of hearing even one-hundredth part of all they 
subjected others to outweighs in their hearts any inclination to 
justice? If they cling greedily to the harvest of benefits they have 
watered with the blood of those who perished? 

It is clear enough that those men who turned the handle of the 
meat grinder even as late as 1937 are no longer young. They are 
fifty to eighty years old. They have lived the best years of their 
lives prosperously, well nourished and comfortable, so that it is 
too late for any kind of equal retribution as far as they are con¬ 

But let us be generous. We will not shoot them. We will not 
pour salt water into them, nor bury them in bedbugs, nor bridle 
them into a “swan dive,” nor keep them on sleepless “stand-up” 
for a week, nor kick them with jackboots, nor beat them with 
rubber truncheons, nor squeeze their skulls in iron rings, nor 
push them into a cell so that they lie atop one another like pieces 
of baggage—^we will not do any of the things they did! But for 
the sake of our country and our children we have the duty to 
seek them all out and bring them all to trial! Not to put them on 
trial so much as their crimes. And to compel each one of them to 
announce loudly: 

“Yes, I was an executioner and a murderer.” 

And if these words were spoken in our country only one- 
quarter of a million times (a just proportion, if we are not to fall 
behind West Germany), would it, perhaps, be enough? 

It is unthinkable in the twentieth century to fail to distinguish 
between what constitutes an abominable atrocity that must be 
prosecuted and what constitutes that “past” which “ought not to 
be stirred up.” 

We have to condemn publicly the very idea that some people 


have the right to repress others. In keeping silent about evil, in 
burying it so deep within us that no sign of it appears on the 
surface, we are implanting it, and it will rise up a thousandfold 
in the future. When we neither punish nor reproach evildoers, we 
are not simply protecting their trivial old age, we are thereby 
ripping the foundations of justice from beneath new generations. 
It is for this reason, and not because of the “weakness of indoc- 
trinational work,” that they are growing up “indifferent.” Young 
people are acquiring the conviction that foul deeds are never 
punished on earth, that they always bring prosperity. 

It is going to be uncomfortable, horrible, to live in such a 

Chapter 5 

First Cell, First Love 

How is one to take the title of this chapter? A cell and love 
in the same breath? Ah, well, probably it has to do with Lenin¬ 
grad during the blockade—and you were imprisoned in the Big 
House. In that case it would be very understandable. That’s why 
you are still alive—^because they shoved you in there. It was the 
best place in Leningrad—not only for the interrogators, who 
even lived there and had offices in the cellars in case of shelling. 
Joking aside, in Leningrad in those days no one washed and 
everyone’s face was covered with a black crust, but in the Big 
House prisoners were given a hot shower every tenth day. Well, 
it’s true that only the corridors were heated—^for the jailers. The 
cells were left unheated, but after all, there were water pipes in 
the cells that worked and a toilet, and where else in Leningrad 
could you find that? And the bread ration was just like the ration 
outside—^barely four and a half ounces. In addition, there was 
broth made from slaughtered horses once a day! And thin gruel 
once a day as well! 

It was a case of the cat’s being envious of the dog’s life! But 
what about punishment cells? And what about the "supreme 
measure” —execution? No, that isn’t what the chapter title is 

Not at all. 

You sit down and half-close your eyes and try to remember 
them all. How many different cells you were imprisoned in during 



your term! It is difficult even to count them. And in each one 
there were people, people. There might be two people in one, 
150 in another. You were imprisoned for five minutes in one 
and all summer long in another. 

But in every case, out of all the cells you’ve been in, your first 
cell is a very special one, the place where you first encountered 
others like yourself, doomed to the same fate. All your life you 
will remember it with an emotion that you otherwise experience 
only in remembering your first love. And those people, who 
shared with you the floor and air of that stone cubicle during 
those days when you rethought your entire life, will from time to 
time be recollect^ by you as members of your own family. 

Yes, in those days they were your only family. 

What you experience in your first interrogation cell parallels 
nothing in your entire previous life or your whole subsequent 
life. No doubt prisons have stood for thousands of years before 
you came along, and may continue to stand after you too— 
longer than one would like to think—^but that first interrogation 
cell is unique and inimitable. 

Maybe it was a terrible place for a human being. A llce-laden, 
bedbug-infested lock-up, without windows, without ventilation, 
without bunks, and with a dirty floor, a box called a KPZ^ in the 
village soviet, at the police station, in the railroad station, or in 
some port. (The KPZ’s and the DPZ’s are scattered across the 
face of our land in the greatest abundance. There are masses of 
prisoners in them.) Or maybe it was “solitary” in the Archangel 
prison, where the glass had been smeared over with red lead so 
that the only rays of God’s maimed fight which crept in to you 
were crimson, and where a 15-watt bulb burned constantly in the 
ceiling, day and night. Or “solitary” in the city of Choibalsan, 
where, for six months at a time, fourteen of you were crowded 
onto seven square yards of floor space in such a way that you 
could only shift your bent legs in unison. Or it was one of the 
Lefortovo “psychological” cells, like No. Ill, which was painted 
black and dso had a day-and-night 25-watt bulb, but was in all 
other respects like every other Lefortovo cell: asphalt floor; the 
heating valve out in the corridor where only the guards had access 

1. KPZ = Cell for Preliminary Detention. DPZ = House of Preliminary 
Detention. In other words, where interrogations are conducted, not where 
sentences are served. 

First Cell, First Love \ 181 

to it; and, above all, that interminable irritating roar from the 
wind tunnel of the neighboring Central Aero- and Hydrodynamics 
Institute—a roar one could not beheve was unintentional, a roar 
which would make a bowl or cup vibrate so violently that it would 
slip off the edge of the table, a roar which made it useless to 
converse and during which one could sing at the top of one’s 
lungs and the jailer wouldn’t even hear. And then when the roar 
stopped, there would ensue a sense of relief and felicity superior 
to freedom itself. 

But it was not the dirty floor, nor the mittky walls, nor the 
odor of the latrine bucket that you loved—^but those fellow 
prisoners with whom you about-faced at command, and that 
something which beat between your heart and theirs, and their 
sometimes astonishing words, and then, too, the birth within you, 
on that very spot, of free-floating thoughts you had so recently 
been unable to leap up or rise to. 

And how much it had cost you to last out until that first cell! 
You had been kept in a pit, or in a box, or in a cellar. No one 
had addressed a human word to you. No one had looked at you 
with a human gaze. All they did was to peck at your brain and 
heart with iron beaks, and when you cri^ out or groaned, they 

For a week or a month you had been an abandoned waif, alone 
among enemies, and you had already said good-bye to reason 
and to life; and you had already tried to kill yourself by “falling” 
from the radiator in such a way as to smash your brains against 
the iron cone of the valve.* Then all of a sudden you were alive 
again, and were brought in to your friends. And reason returned 
to you. 

That’s what your first cell is! 

You waited for that cell. You dreamed of it almost as eagerly 
as of freedom. Meanwhile, they kept shoving you around between 
cracks in the wall and holes in the ground, from Lefortovo into 
some legendary, diabolical Sukhanovka. 

Sukhanovka was the most terrible prison the MGB had. Its 
very name was used to intimidate prisoners; interrogators would 
hiss it threateningly. And you’d not be able to question those who 
had been there: either they were insane and talking only discon¬ 
nected nonsense, or they were dead. 

2. Alexander D. 


Sukhanovka was a former monastery, dating back to Catherine 
the Great. It consisted of two buildings—one in which prisoners 
served out their terms, and the other a structure that contained 
sixty-eight monks’ cells and was used for interrogations. The 
journey there in a Black Maria took two hours, and only a hand¬ 
ful of people knew that the prison was really just a few miles 
from Lenin’s Gorki estate and near the former estate of Zinaida 
Volkonskaya. The countryside surrounding it was beautiful. 

There they stunned the newly arrived prisoner with a stand-up 
punishment cell again so narrow that when he was no longer 
able to stand he had to sag, supported by his bent knees propped 
against the wall. There was no alternative. They kept prisoners 
thus for more than a day to break their resistance. But they ate 
tender, tasty food at Sukhanovka, which was like nothing else 
in the MGB—^because it was brought in from the Architects’ 
Rest Home. They didn’t maintain a separate kitchen to prepare 
hogwash. However, the amoimt one architect would eat—includ¬ 
ing fried potatoes and meatballs—was divided among twelve 
prisoners. As a result the prisoners were not only always hungry 
but also exceedingly irritable. 

The cells were all built for two, but prisoners under interroga¬ 
tion were usually kept in them singly. The dimensions were five 
by six and a half feet.® Two little round stools were welded to 
the stone floor, like stumps, and at night, if the guard unlocked 

3. To be absolutely precise, they were 156 centimeters by 209 centimeters. 
How do we know? Through a triumph of engineering calculation and a strong 
heart that even Sukhanovka could not break. The measurements were the work 
of Alexander D., who would not allow them to drive him to madness or despair. 
He resisted by striving to use his mind to calculate distances. In Lefortovo he 
counted steps, converted them into kilometers, remembered from a map how 
many kilometers it was from Moscow to the border, and then how many across 
all Europe, and how many across the Atlantic Ocean. He was sustained in this 
by the hope of returning to America. And in one year in Lefortovo solitary he 
got, so to speak, halfway across the Atlantic. Thereupon they took him to Su¬ 
khanovka. Here, realizing how few would survive to tell of it—and all our in¬ 
formation about it comes from him—he invented a method of measuring the 
cell. The numbers 10/22 were stamped on the bottom of his prison bowl, and 
he guessed that “10” was the diameter of the bottom and “22” the diameter of 
the outside edge. Then he pulled a thread from a towel, made himself a tape 
measure, and measured everything with it. Then he began to invent a way of 
sleeping standing up, propping his knees against the small chair, and of deceiv¬ 
ing the guard into thinking his eyes were open. He succeeded in this deception, 
and that was how he managed not to go insane when Ryumin kept him sleepless 
for a month. 

First Cell, First Love \ 183 

a cylinder lock, a shelf dropped from the wall onto each stump 
and remained there for seven hours (in other words, during the 
hours of interrogation, since there was no daytime interrogation 
at Sukhanovka at all), and a httle straw mattress large enough 
for a child also dropped down. During the day, the stool was 
exposed and free, but one was forbidden to sit on it. In addition, 
a table lay, like an ironing board, on four upright pipes. The 
“fortochka” in the window—the small hinged pane for ventilation 
—^was always closed except for ten minutes in the morning when 
the guard cranked it open. The glass in the little window was 
reinforced. There were never any exercise periods out of doors. 
Prisoners were taken to the toilet at 6 a.m. only—^i.e., when no 
one’s stomach needed it. There was no toilet period in the eve¬ 
ning. There were two guards for each block of seven cells, so 
that was why the prisoners could be under almost constant in¬ 
spection through the peephole, the only interruption being the 
time it took the guard to step past two doors to a third. And that 
was the purpose of silent Sukhanovka: to leave the prisoner not 
a single moment for sleep, not a single stolen moment for privacy. 
You were always being watched and always in their power. 

But if you endured the whole duel with insanity and all the 
trials of loneliness, and had stood firm, you deserved your first 
cell! And now when you got into it, your soul would hed. 

If you had surrendered, if you had given in and betrayed every¬ 
one, you were also ready for your first cell. But it would have 
been better for you not to have lived until that happy moment 
and to have died a victor in the cellar, without having signed a 
single sheet of paper. 

Now for the first time you were about to see people who were 
not your enemies. Now for the first time you were about to see 
others who were alive,^ who were traveling your road, and whom 
you could join to yourself with the joyous word “we.” 

Yes, that word which you may have despised out in freedom, 
when they used it as a substitute for your own individuality 
(“All of us, like one man!” Or: “We are deeply angered!” Or: 

4. And if this was in the Big House in Leningrad during the siege, you may 
also have seen cannibals. Those who had eaten human flesh, those who had 
traded in human livers from dissecting rooms, were for some reason kept by 
the MGB with the political prisoners. 


“We demand!” Or: “We swear!”), is now revealed to you as 
something sweet: you are not alone in the world! Wise, spiritual 
beings —human beings —still exist. 

I had been dueling for foiur days with the interrogator, when the 
jailer, having waited until I lay down to sleep in my blindingly 
lit box, began to unlock my door. I heard him aU right, but 
before he could say: “Get up! Interrogation!” I wanted to lie for 
another three-hundredths of a second with my head on the pillow 
and pretend I was sleeping. But, instead of the familiar command, 
the guard ordered: “Get up! Pick up your bedding!” 

Uncomprehending, and unhappy because this was my most 
precious time, I wound on my footcloths, put on my boots, my 
overcoat, my winter cap, and clasped the govermnent-issue mat¬ 
tress in my arms. The guard was walking on tiptoe and kept 
signaling me not to make any noise as he led me down a corridor 
silent as the grave, through Ae fourth floor of the Lubyanka, past 
the desk of the section supervisor, past the shiny numbers on the 
cells and the olive-colored covers of the peepholes, and unlocked 
Cell 67.1 entered and he locked it behind me immediately. 

Even though only a quarter of an hour or so had passed since 
the signal to go to sleep had been given, the period allotted the 
prisoners for sleeping was so fragile, and undependable, and brief 
that, by the time I arrived, the inhabitants of Cell 67 were already 
asleep on their metal cots with their hands on top of the blankets.® 

At the sound of the door opening, all three started and raised 
their heads for an instant. They, too, were waiting to learn which 
of them might be taken to interrogation. 

And those three lifted heads, those three unshaven, crumpled 

5. New measures of oppression, additions to the traditional prison regula¬ 
tions, were invented only gradually in the internal prisons of the GPU-NKVD- 
MGB. At the beginning of the twenties, prisoners were not subjected to this 
particular measure, and lights were turned off at night as in the ordinary world. 
But they began to keep the lights on, on the logical grounds that they needed 
to keep the prisoners in view at all times. (When they used to turn the lights 
on for inspection, it had been even worse.) Arms had to be kept outside the 
blanket, allegedly to prevent the prisoner from strangling himself beneath the 
blanket and thus escaping his just interrogation. It was demonstrated experi¬ 
mentally that in the winter a human being always wants to keep his arms under 
the bedclothes for warmth; consequently the measure was made permanent. 

First Cell, First Love \ 185 

pale faces, seemed to me so human, so dear, that I stood there, 
hugging my mattress, and smiled with happiness. And they 
smiled. And what a forgotten look that was—after only one 

“Are you from freedom?” they asked me. (That was the 
question customarily put to a newcomer.) 

“Nooo,” I replied. And that was a newcomer’s usual first reply. 

They had in mind that I had probably been arrested recently, 
which meant that I came from freedom. And I, after ninety-six 
hours of interrogation, hardly considered that I was from “free¬ 
dom.” Was I not already a veteran prisoner? Nonetheless I was 
from freedom. The beardless old man with the black and very 
lively eyebrows was already asking me for military and political 
news. Astonishing! Even though it was late February, they knew 
nothing about the Yalta Conference, nor the encirclement of 
East Prussia, nor anything at all about our own attack below 
Warsaw in mid-January, nor even about the woeful December 
retreat of the Allies. According to regulations, those under inter¬ 
rogation were not supposed to know anything about the outside 
world. And here indeed they didn’t! 

I was prepared to spend half the night telling them all about 
it—with pride, as though all the victories and advances were the 
work of my own hands. But at this point the duty jailer brought 
in my cot, and I had to set it up without making any noise. I 
was helped by a young fellow my own age, also a military man. 
His tunic and aviator’s cap hung on his cot. He had asked me, 
even before the old man spoke, not for news of the war but for 
tobacco. But although I felt openhearted toward my new friends, 
and although not many words had been exchanged in the few 
minutes since I joined them, I sensed something alien in this 
front-line soldier who was my contemporary, and, as far as he 
was concerned, I clammed up immediately and forever. 

(I had not yet even heard the word “nasedka”—“stool pigeon” 
—^nor learned that there had to be one such “stool pigeon” in 
each cell. And I had not yet had time to think things over and 
conclude that I did not like this fellow, Georgi Kramarenko. But 
a spiritual relay, a sensor relay, had clicked inside me, and it had 
closed him off from me for.good and all. I would not bother to 
recall this event if it had been the only one of its kind. But soon. 


with astonishment, and alarm, I became aware of the work of 
this internal sensor relay as a constant, inborn trait. The years 
passed and I lay on the same bunks, marched in the same forma¬ 
tions, and worked in the same work brigades with hundreds of 
others. And always that secret sensor relay, for whose creation 
I deserved not the least bit of credit, worked even before I remem¬ 
bered it was there, worked at the first sight of a human face and 
eyes, at the first sound of a voice—so that I opened my heart to 
that person either fully or just the width of a crack, or else shut 
myself off from him completely. This was so consistently un¬ 
failing that all the efforts of the State Security officers to employ 
stool pigeons began to seem to me as insignificant as being 
pestered by gnats: after all, a person who has undertaken to be 
a traitor always betrays the fact in his face and in his voice, and 
even though some were more skilled in pretense, there was always 
something fishy about them. On the other hand, the sensor relay 
helped me distinguish those to whom I could from the very begin¬ 
ning of our acquaintance completely disclose my most precious 
depths and secrets—secrets for which heads roll. Thus it was 
that I got through eight years of imprisonment, three years of 
exile, and another six years of underground authorship, which 
were in no wise less dangerous. During all those seventeen years 
I recklessly revealed myself to dozens of people—^and didn’t 
make a misstep even once. (I have never read about this trait 
anywhere, and I mention it here for those interested in psy¬ 
chology. It seems to me that such spiritual sensors exist in many 
of us, but because we live in too technological and rational an age, 
we neglect this miracle and don’t allow it to develop.) 

We set up the cot, and I was then ready to talk—^in a whisper, 
of course, and lying down, so as not to be sent from this cozy 
nest into a punishment cell. But our third cellmate, a middle- 
aged man whose cropped head already showed the white bristles 
of imminent grayness, peered at me discontentedly and said with 
characteristic northern severity: “Tomorrow! Night is for sleep¬ 

That was the most intelligent thing to do. At any minute, 
one of us could have been pulled out for interrogation and held 
until 6 A.M., when the interrogator would go home to sleep but 
we were forbidden to. 

First Cell, First Love 


One night of undisturbed sleep was more important than all 
the fates on earth! 

One more thing held me back, which I didn’t quite catch right 
away but had felt nonetheless from the first words of my story, 
although I could not at this early date find a name for it: As 
each of us had been arrested, everything in our world had 
switched places, a 180-degree shift in all our concepts had oc¬ 
curred, and the good news I had begun to recount with such 
enthusiasm might not be good news for us at all. 

My cellmates turned on their sides, covered their eyes with 
their handkerchiefs to keep out the light from the 200-watt bulb, 
wound towels around their upper arms, which were chilled from 
lying on top of the blankets, hid their lower arms furtively 
beneath them, and went to sleep. 

And I lay there, filled to the brim with the joy of being among 
them. One hour ago I could not have counted on being with 
anyone. I could have come to my end with a bullet in the back 
of my head—^which was what the interrogator kept promising 
me—^without having seen anyone at all. Interrogation still hung 
over me, but how far it had retreated! Tomorrow I would be 
telling them my story (though not talking about my case, of 
course) and they would be telling me their stories too. How 
interesting tomorrow would be, one of the best days of my life! 
(Thus, very early and very clearly, I had this consciousness that 
prison was not an abyss for me, but the most important turning 
point in my life.) 

Every detail of the cell interested me. Sleep fled, and when 
the peephole was not in use I studied it all furtively. Up there 
at the top of one wall was a small indentation the length of 
three bricks, covered by a dark-blue paper blind. They had al¬ 
ready told me it was a window. Yes, there was a window in the 
cell. And the blind served as an air-raid blackout. Tomorrow 
there would be weak daylight, and in the middle of the day they 
would turn off the glaring light bulb. How much that meant—to 
have daylight in daytime! 

There was also a table in the cell. On it, in the most con¬ 
spicuous spot, were a teapot, a chess set, and a small pile of 
books. (I was not yet aware why they were so conspicuously 
positioned. It turned out to be another example of the Lubyanka 


system at work. During his once-a-minute peephole inspection, 
the jailer was supposed to make sure that the gifts of the prison 
adn^stration were not being misused: that the teapot was not 
being used to break down the wall; that no one was swallowing 
the chessmen and thereby possibly cashing in his chips and 
ceasing to be a citizen of lie U.S.S.R.; and that no one was 
starting a fire with the books in the hope of burning down the 
whole prison. And a prisoner’s eyeglasses were considered so 
potentially dangerous Aat they were not allowed to remain on 
the table during the night; the prison administration took them 
away until morning.) 

)^at a cozy life! Chess, books, cots with springs, decent 
mattresses, clean linen. I could not remember having slept like 
this during the whole war. There was a worn parquet floor. One 
could take nearly four strides from window to door in the aisle 
between the cots. No, indeed! This central political prison was 
a real resort. 

And no shells were falling. I remembered their sounds: the 
high-pitched sobbing way up overhead, then the rising whistle, 
and the crash as they burst. And how tenderly the mortar shells 
whistled. And how eveiything trembled from the four blasts of 
what we called “Dr. Goebbels’ mortar-rockets.” And I remem¬ 
bered the wet snow and mud near Wormditt, where I had been 
arrested, which our men were still wading through to keep the 
Germans from breaking out of our encirclement. 

All right then, the hell with you; if you don’t want me to fight, 
I won’t. 

Among our many lost values there is one more: the high worth 
of those people who spoke and wrote Russian before us. It is odd 
that they are almost undescribed in our prerevolutionary litera¬ 
ture. Only very rarely do we feel their breath—^from Marina 
Tsvetayeva, or from “Mother Mariya” (in her Recollections of 
Blok). They saw too much to settle on any one thing. They 
reached toward the sublime too fervently to stand firmly on the 
earth. Before societies fall, just such a stratum of wise, thinking 
people emerges, people who are that and nothing more. And how 
they were laughed at! How they were mocked! As though they 

First Cell, First Love \ 189 

stuck in the craw of people whose deeds and actions were single- 
minded and narrow-minded. And the only nickname they were 
christened with was “rot.” Because these people were a flower 
that bloomed too soon and breathed too delicate a fragrance. 
And so they were mowed down. 

These people were particularly helpless in their personal lives: 
they could neither bend with the wind, nor pretend, nor get by; 
every word declared an opinion, a passion, a protest. And it was 
just such people the mowing machine cut down, just such people 
the chaff-cutter shredded.® 

They had passed through these very same cells. But the cell 
walls—for the wallpaper had long since been stripped off, and 
they had been plastered, whitewashed, and painted more than 
once—gave off nothing of the past. (On the contrary, the walls 
now tried to listen to us with hidden microphones.) Nowhere is 
anything written down or reported of the former inhabitants of 
these cells, of the conversations held in them, of the thoughts 
with which earlier inmates went forth to be shot or to imprison¬ 
ment on the Solovetsky Islands. And now such a volume, which 
would be worth forty freight car loads of our literature, will in 
all probability never be written. 

Those still alive recount to us aU sorts of trivial details: that 
there used to be wooden trestle beds here and that the mattresses 
were stuffed with straw. That, way back in 1920, before they put 
muzzles over the windows, the panes were whitewashed up to 
the top. By 1923 “muzzles” had been installed (although we 
unanimously ascribed them to Beria). They said that back in the 
twenties, prison authorities had been very lenient toward pris¬ 
oners communicating with each other by “Imocking” on the walls: 
this was a carry-over from the stupid tradition in the Tsarist 
prisons that if the prisoners were deprived of knocking, they 
would have no way to occupy their time. And another thing: 
back in the twenties all the jailers were Latvians, from the 
Latvian Red Army units and others, and the food was all handed 
out by strapping Latvian women. 

All this was trivial detail, but it was certainly food for thought. 

I myself had needed very badly to get into this main Soviet 

6. I am almost fearful of saying it, but it seems as though on the eve of the 
1970’s these people are emerging once again. That is surprising. It was almost 
too much to hope for. 


political prison, and I was grateful that I had been sent here: I 
thought about Bukharin a great deal and I wanted to picture the 
whole thing as it had actually been. However, I had the impres¬ 
sion that we were by now merely the remnants, and that in this 
respect we might just as well have been in any provincial 
“internal” prison.'^ Still, there was a good deal of status in being 

And there was no reason to be bored with my companions in 
my new cell. They were people to listen to and people with whom 
to compare notes. 

The old fellow with the lively eyebrows—^and at sixty-three 
he in no way bore himself like an old man—^was Anatoly Ilyich 
Fastenko. He was a big asset to our Lubyanka cell—^both as a 
keeper of the old Russian prison traditions and as a living history 
of Russian revolutions. Thanks to all that he remembered, he 
somehow managed to put in perspective everything that had 
taken place in the past and everything that was taking place in 
the present. Such people are valuable not only in a cell. We 
badly need them in our society as a whole. 

Right there in our cell we read Fastenko’s name in a book 
about the 1905 Revolution. He had been a Social Democrat for 
such a long, long time that in the end, it seemed, he had ceased to 
be one. 

He had been sentenced to his first prison term in 1904 while 
still a young man, but he had been freed outright under the 
“manifesto” proclaimed on October 17, 1905.® 

His story about that amnesty was interesting. In those years, 

7. One attached to a State Security headquarters. 

8. Who among us has not learned by heart from our school history courses, 
as well as from the Short Course in the history of the Soviet Communist Party, 
that this “provocative and foul manifesto” was a mockery of freedom, that the 
Tsar had proclaimed: “Freedom for the dead, and prison for the living”? But 
the epigram was bogus. The manifesto declared that all political parties were 
to be tolerated and that a State Duma was to be convened, and it provided for 
an amnesty which was honest and extremely extensive. (The fact that it had 
been issued under duress was something else again.) Indeed, under its terms 
none other than all political prisoners without exception were to be released 
without reference to the term and type of punishment they had been sentenced 
to. Only criminals remained imprisoned. Tlie Stalin amnesty of July 7, 1945— 
true, it was not issued under duress—^was exactly the opposite. All the political 
prisoners remained imprisoned. 

First Cell, First Love \ 191 

of course, there were no muzzles on the prison windows, and 
from the cells of the Belaya Tserkov Prison in which Fastenko 
was being held the prisoners could easily observe the prison 
courtyard and the street, and aU arrivals and departures, and 
they could shout back and forth as they pleased to ordinary 
citizens outside. During the day of October 17, these outsiders, 
having learned of the amnesty by telegraph, announced the news 
to the prisoners. In their happiness the political prisoners went 
wild with joy. They smashed windowpanes, broke down doors, 
and demanded that the prison warden release them immediately. 
And were any of them kicked right in the snout with jackboots? 
Or put in punishment cells? Or was anyone deprived of library 
and commissary privileges? Of course not! In his distress, the 
warden ran from cell to cell and implored them: “Gentlemen! 
I beg of you, please be reasonable! I don’t have the authority to 
release you on the basis of a telegraphed report. I must have 
direct orders from my superiors in Kiev. Please, I beg of you. 
You will have to spend the night here.” And in actual fact they 
were most barbarously kept there for one more day.® 

On getting back their freedom, Fastenko and his comrades 
immediately rushed to join the revolution. In 1906 he was 
sentenced to eight years at hard labor, which meant four years 
in irons and four in exile. He served the first four years in the 
Sevastopol Central Prison, where, incidentally, during his stay, 
a mass escape was organized from outside by a coalition of 
revolutionary parties: the SR’s, the Anarchists, and the Social 
Democrats. A bomb blew a hole in the prison wall big enough 
for a horse and rider to go through, and two dozen prisoners— 
not everyone who wanted to escape, but those who had been 
chosen ahead of time by their parties and, right inside the prison, 
had been equipped with pistols by the jailers—^fled through the 
hole and escaped. All but one: Anatoly Fastenko was selected 
by the Russian Social Democratic Party not to escape but to 
cause a disturbance in order to distract the attention of the 

On the other hand, when he reached exile in the Yenisei area, 

9. After Stalin’s amnesty, as I will recount later, those amnestied were held 
in prison for another two or three months and were forced to slog away just 
as before. And no one considered this illegal. 


he did not stay there long. Comparing his stories (and later those 
of others who had survived) with the well-known fact that under 
the Tsar our revolutionaries escaped from exile by the himdreds 
and hundreds, and more and more of them went abroad, one 
comes to the conclusion that the only prisoners who did not 
escape from Tsarist exile were the lazy ones—^because it was so 
easy. Fastenko “escaped,” which is to say, he simply left his 
place of exile without a passport. He went to Vladivostok, ex¬ 
pecting to get aboard a steamer through an acquaintance there. 
Somehow it did not work out. So then, still wiAout a passport, 
he calmly crossed the whole of Mother Russia on a train and went 
to the Ukraine, where he had been a member of the Bolshevik 
underground and where he had first been arrested. There he was 
given a false passport, and he left to cross the Austrian border. 
That particular step was so routine, and Fastenko felt himself 
so safe from pursuit, that he was guilty of an astonishing piece 
of carelessness. Having arrived at the border, and having turned 
in his passport to the official there, he suddenly discovered he 
could not remember his new name. What was he to do? There 
were forty passengers altogether and the official had already 
begun to call off their names. Fastenko thought up a solution. He 
pretended to be asleep. He listened as the passports were handed 
back to their owners, and he noted that the name Makarov was 
called several times without anyone responding. But even at this 
point he was not absolutely certain it was his name. Finally, the 
dragon of the imperial regime bent down to the underground 
revolutionary and politely tapped him on the shoulder: “Mr. 
Makarov! Mr. Makarov! Please, here is your passport!” 

Fastenko headed for Paris. There he got to know Lenin and 
Lunacharsky and carried out some administrative duties at the 
Party school at Longjumeau. At the same time he studied French, 
looked around him, and decided that he wanted to travel farther 
and see the world. Before the war he went to Canada, where he 
worked for a while, and he spent some time in the United States 
as well. He was astonished by the free and easy, yet solidly 
established life in these countries, and he concluded that they 
would never have a proletarian revolution and even that they 
hardly needed one. 

Then, in Russia, the long-awaited revolution came, sooner 

First Cell, First Love | 193 

than expected, and everyone went back to Russia, and then there 
was one more Revolution. Fastenko no longer felt his former 
passion for these revolutions. But he returned, compelled by the 
same need that urges birds to their annual migrations.^® 

There was much about Fastenko I could not yet understand. 
In my eyes, perhaps the main thing about him, and the most 
surprising, was that he had known Lenin personally. Yet he was 
quite cool in recalling this. (Such was my attitude at the time 
that when someone in the cell called Fastenko by his patronymic 
alone, without using his given name—^in other words simply 
“Ilyich,” asking: “Ilyich, is it your turn to take out the latrine 
bucket?”—I was utterly outraged and offended because it seemed 
sacrilege to me not only to use Lenin’s patronymic in the same 
sentence as “latrine bucket,” but even to call anyone on eardi 
“Ilyich” except that one man, Lenin.) For this reason, no doubt, 
there was much that Fastenko would have liked to explain to me 
that he still could not bring himself to. 

Nonetheless, he did say to me, in the clearest Russian: “Thou 
shalt not make unto thee any graven image!” But I failed to 
understand him! 

Observing my enthusiasm, he more than once said to me 
insistently: “You’re a mathematician; it’s a mistake for you to 
forget that maxim of Descartes: ‘Question everything!’ Ques¬ 
tion everything!” What did this mean—“everything”? Certainly 
not everything! It seemed to me that I had questioned enough 
things as it was, and that was enough of that! 

Or he said: “Hardly any of the old hard-labor political pris- 

10. Soon after Fastenko returned to the Motherland, he was followed by 
a Canadian acquaintance, a former sailor on the battleship Potemkin, one of the 
mutineers, in fact, who had escaped to Canada and become a well-to-do 
farmer there. This former Potemkin sailor sold everything he owned, his farm 
and cattle, and returned to his native region with his money and his new 
tractor to help build sacred socialism. He enlisted in one of the first agricultural 
communes and donated his tractor to it. The tractor was driven any which way 
by whoever happened along and was quickly ruined. And the former Potemkin 
sailor saw things turning out very differently from the way he had pictured 
them for twenty years. Those in charge were incompetents, issuing orders that 
any sensible farmer could see were wild nonsense. In addition, he became 
skinnier and skinnier, and his clothes wore out, and nothing was left of the 
Canadian dollars he had exchanged for paper rubles. He begged to be allowed 
to leave with his family, and he crossed the border as poor as when he fled 
from the Potemkin, He crossed the ocean, just as he had done then, working 
his way as a sailor, because he had no money for passages, and back in Canada 
he began life all over again as a hired hand on a farm. 


oners of Tsarist times are left. I am one of the last. All the hard- 
labor politicals have been destroyed, and they even dissolved 
our society in the thirties.” “Why?” I asked. “So we would not 
get together and discuss things.” And although these simple 
words, spoken in a calm tone, should have been shouted to the 
heavens, should have shattered windowpanes, I understood them 
only as indicating one more of Stalin’s evil deeds. It was a trouble¬ 
some fact, but without roots. 

One thing is absolutely definite: not everything that enters 
our ears penetrates our consciousness. Anything too far out of 
tune with our attitude is lost, either in the ears themselves or 
somewhere beyond, but it is lost. And even though I clearly re¬ 
member Fastenko’s many stories, I recall his opinions but 
vaguely. He gave me the names of various books which he 
strongly advised me to read whenever I got back to freedom. In 
view of his age and his health, he evidently did not count on 
getting out of prison alive, and he got some satisfaction from 
hoping that I would someday understand his ideas. I couldn’t 
write down the list of books he suggested, and even as it was there 
was a great deal of prison life for me to remember, but I at least 
remembered those titles which were closest to my taste then: 
Untimely Thoughts by Gorky (whom I regarded very highly at 
that time, since he had, after all, outdone all the other classical 
Russian writers in being proletarian) and Plekhanov’s A Year 
in the Motherland. 

Today, when I read what Plekhanov wrote on October 28, 
1917, I can clearly reconstruct what Fastenko himself thought: 

... I am disappointed by the events of the last days not because I 
do not desire the triumph of the working class in Russia but precisely 
because I pray for it with all the strength of my soul. . . . [We must] 
remember Engels’ remark that there could be no greater historical 
tragedy for the working class than to seize political power when it is 
not ready for it. [Such a seizure of power] would compel it to retreat 
far back from the positions which were won in February and March of 
the present year. 

When Fastenko returned to Russia, pressure was put on him, 
out of respect for his old underground exploits, to accept an 

11. G. V. Plekhanov, “An Open Letter to the Workers of Petrograd,” in 
the newspaper Yedinstvo, October 28, 1917. 

First Cell, First Love \ 195 

important position. But he did not want to; instead, he accepted 
a modest post on the newspaper Pravda and then a still more 
modest one, and eventually he moved over to the Moscow City 
Planning office, where he worked in an inconspicuous job. 

I was surprised. Why had he chosen such a cul-de-sac? He ex¬ 
plained in terms I found incomprehensible. “You can’t teach 
an old dog to live on a chain.” 

Realizing that there was nothing he could accomplish, Fastenko 
quite simply wanted, in a very human way, to stay alive. He had 
already gotten used to living on a very small pension—not one of 
the “personal” pensions especially assigned by the government, 
because to have accepted that sort of thing would have called 
attention to his close ties to many who had been shot. And he 
might have managed to survive in this way until 1953. But, to 
his misfortune, they arrested another tenant in his apartment, a 

debauched, perpetually drunken writer, L. S-who had 

bragged somewhere while he was drunk about owning a pistol. 
Owning a pistol meant an obligatory conviction for terrorism, 
and Fastenko, with his ancient Social Democratic past, was 
naturally the very picture of a terrorist. Therefore, the interroga¬ 
tor immediately proceeded to nail him for terrorism and, simul¬ 
taneously, of course, for service in the French and Canadian 
intelligence services and thus for service in the Tsarist Okhrana 
as well.“ And in 1945, to earn his fat pay, the fat interrogator 
was quite seriously leafing through the archives of the Tsarist 
provincial gendarmerie administrations, and composing entirely 
serious interrogation depositions about conspiratorial nicknames, 
passwords, and secret rendezvous and meetings in 1903. 

On the tenth day, which was as soon as was permitted, his 
old wife (they had no children) delivered to Anatoly Ilyich such 
parcels as she could manage to put together: a piece of black 
bread weighing about ten and a half ounces (after all, it had 
been bought in the open market, where bread cost 50 rubles a 
pound), and a dozen peeled boiled potatoes which had been 
pierced by an awl when the parcel was being inspected. And the 

12. This was one of Stalin’s pet themes—^to ascribe to every arrested Bol¬ 
shevik, and in general to every arrested revolutionary, service in the Tsarist 
Okhrana, Was this merely his intolerant suspiciousness? Or was it intuition? 
Or, perhaps, analogy? . . . 


sight of those wretched—and truly sacred—^parcels tore at one’s 

That was what this human being had earned for sixty-three 
years of honesty and doubts. 

The four cots in our cell left an aisle in the middle, where the 
table stood. But several days after my arrival, they put a fifth per¬ 
son in with us and inserted a cot crosswise. 

They brought in the newcomer an hour before rising time— 
that brief, sweetly cerebral last hour, and three of us did not lift 
our heads. Only Kramarenko jumped up, to sponge some to¬ 
bacco, and maybe, with it, some material for Ae interrogator. 
They began to converse in a whisper, and we tried not to listen. 
But it was quite impossible not to overhear the newcomer’s 
whisper. It was so loud, so disquieting, so tense, and so close to a 
sob, that we reahzed it was no ordinary grief that had entered 
our cell. The newcomer was asking whether many were shot. 
Nonetheless, without turning my head, I called them down, asking 
them to talk more quietly. 

When, on the signal to rise, we all instantly jumped up (lying 
abed earned you the punishment cell), we saw a general, no 
less! True, he wasn’t wearing any insignia of rank, not even 
tabs—nor could one see where his insignia had been tom ofiE 
or unscrewed, but his expensive tunic, his soft overcoat, indeed 
his entire figure and face, told us that he was unquestionably 
a general, in fact a typical general, and most certainly a full 
general, and not one of your run-of-the-mill major generals. He 
was short, stocky, very broad of shoulder and body, and notably 
fat in the face, but this fat, which had been acquired by eating 
well, endowed him, not with an appearance of good-natured 
accessibility, but with an air of weighty importance, of affiliation 
with the highest ranks. The crowning part of his face was, to be 
sure, not the upper portion, but the lower, which resembled a 
bulldog’s jaw. It was there that his energy was concentrated, 
along with his will and authoritativeness, which were what had 
enabled him to attain such rank by early middle age. 

We introduced ourselves, and it turned out that L. V. Z-v 

First Cell, First Love \ 197 

was even younger than he appeared. He would be thirty-six that 
year—“If they don’t shoot me.” Even more surprisingly, it de¬ 
veloped that he was not a general at all, not even a colonel, and 
not even a military man—^but an engineer! 

An engineer? I had grown up among engineers, and I could 
remember the engineers of the twenties very well indeed: their 
open, shining intellects, their free and gentle humor, their agility 
and breadth of thought, the ease with which they shifted from 
one engineering field to another, and, for that matter, from 
technology to social concerns and art. Then, too, they personified 
good manners and delicacy of taste; well-bred speech tihat flowed 
evenly and was free of uncultured words; one of them might 
play a musical instrument, another dabble in painting; and their 
faces always bore a spiritual imprint. 

From the beginning of the thirties I had lost contact with 
that milieu. Then came the war. And here before me stood—an 
engineer, one of those who had replaced those destroyed. 

No one could deny him one point of superiority. He was much 
stronger, more visceral, than those others had been. His shoulders 
and hands retained their strength even though they had not 
needed it for a long time. Freed from the restraints of courtesy, 
he stared sternly and spoke impersonally, as if he didn’t even 
consider the possibility of a dissenting view. He had grown up 
differently from those others too, and he worked differently. 

His father had plowed the earth in the most literal sense. 

Lenya Z-v had been one of those disheveled, unenlightened 

peasant boys whose wasted talents so distressed Belinsky and 
Tolstoi, He was certainly no Lomonosov, and he could never 
have gotten to the Academy on his own, but he was talented. If 
there had been no revolution, he would have plowed the land, 
and he would have become well-to-do because he was energetic 
and active, and he might have raised himself into the merchant 

It being the Soviet period, however, he entered the Komsomol, 
and his work in the Komsomol, overshadowing his other talents, 
lifted him out of anonymity, out of his lowly state, out of the 
coimtryside, and shot him like a rocket through the Workers’ 
School right into the Industrial Academy. He arrived there in 
1929—at the very moment when those other engineers were 


being driven in whole herds into Gulag. It was urgently necessary 
for those in power to produce their own engineers—^politically- 
conscious, loyal, one-hundred percenters, who were to become 
bigwigs of production, Soviet businessmen, in fact, rather than 
people who did things themselves. That was the moment when 
the famous commanding heights overlooking the as-yet-uncreated 
industries were empty. And it was the fate of Z——v’s class in 
the Industrial Academy to occupy them. 

Z-^v’s life became a chain of triumphs, a garland wind¬ 

ing right up to the peak. Those were the exhausting years, from 
1929 to 1933, when the civil war was being waged, not as in 
1918 to 1920 with tachankas—machine guns mounted on horse- 
drawn carts—^but with police dogs, when the long lines of those 
dying of famine trudged toward the railroad stations in the hope 
of getting to the cities, which was where the breadgrains were 
evidently ripening, but were refused tickets and were unable to 
leave—and lay dying beneath the station fences in a submissive 
human heap of homespun coats and bark shoes. In those same 

years Z- v not only did not know that bread was rationed to 

city dwellers but, at a time when a manual laborer was receiving 
60 rubles a month in wages, he enjoyed a student’s scholarship 

of 900 rubles a month. Z-^v’s heart did not ache for the 

countryside whose dust he had shaken from his feet. His new life 
was already soaring elsewhere among the victors and the leaders. 

He never had time to be an ordinary, run-of-the-mill foreman. 
He was immediately assigned to a position in which he had 
dozens of engineers and thousands of workers under him. He was 
the chief engineer of the big construction projects outside Mos¬ 
cow. From the very beginning of the war he, of course, had an 
exemption from military service. He was evacuated to Alma-Ata, 
together with the department he worked for, and in this area he 
bossed even bigger construction projects on the Hi River. But 
in this case his workers were prisoners. The sight of those little 
gray people bothered him very little at the time, nor did it in¬ 
spire him to any reappraisals nor compel him to take a closer 
look. In that gleaming orbit in which he circled, the only im¬ 
portant thing was to achieve the projected totals, fulfillment of 

the plan. And it was quite enough for Z-^v merely to punish 

a particular construction unit, a particular camp, and a par- 

First Cell, First Love \ 199 

ticular work superintendent—after that, it was up to them to 
manage to fulfill their norm with their own resources. How many 
hours they had to work to do it or what ration they had to get 
along on were details that didn’t concern him. 

The war years deep in the rear were the best years in Z- w’s 

life. Such is the eternal and universal aspect of war: the more 
grief it accumulates at one of its poles, the more joy it generates 

at the other. Z-had not only a bulldog’s jaw but also a 

swift, enterprising, businesslike grasp. With the greatest skill he 
immediately switched to the economy’s new wartime rhythm. 
Everything for victory. Give and take, and the war will write it 
all off. He made just one small concession to the war. He got 
along without suits and neckties, and, camouflaging himself in 
khaki color, had chrome-leather boots made to order and doimed 
a general’s tunic—^the very one in which he appeared before us. 
That was fashionable and not uncommon at the time. It provoked 
neither anger in the war-wounded nor reproachful glances from 

Women usually looked at him with another sort of glance. 
They came to him to get well fed, to get warmed up, to have 
some fun. He had wild money passing through his hands. His 
billfold bulged like a little barrel with expense money, and to 
him ten-ruble notes were like kopecks, and thousands like single 

rubles. Z-v didn’t hoard them, regret spending them, or 

keep count of them. He counted only the women who passed 
through his hands, and particularly those he had “uncorked.” 
This count was his sport. In the cell he assured us that his arrest 
had broken off the count at 290 plus, and he regretted that he 
had not reached 300. Since it was wartime and the women were 
alone and lonely. And since, in addition to his power and money, 
he had the virility of a Rasputin, one can probably believe him. 
And he was quite prepared to describe one episode after another. 
It was just that our ears were not prepared to listen to him. Even 
though no danger threatened him during those last years, he had 
frantically grabbed these women, messed them up, and then 
thrown them away, like a greedy diner eating boiled crayfish— 
grabbing one, devouring it, sucking it, then grabbing the next. 

He was so accustomed to the malleability of material, to his 
own vigorous boarlike drive across the land! (Whenever he was 


especially agitated, he would dash about the cell like a powerful 
boar who might just knock down an oak tree in his path.) He 
was so accustomed to an environment in which all the leaders 
were his own kind of people, in which one could always make a 
deal, work things out, cover them up! He forgot that the more 
success one gains, the more envy one arouses. As he found out 
during his interrogation, a dossier had been accumulating against 
him since way back in 1936, on the basis of an anecdote he had 
carelessly told at a drunken party. More denunciations had fol¬ 
lowed, and more testimony from agents (after all, one has to 
take women to restaurants, where all types of people see you!). 
Another report pointed out that he had been in no hurry to leave 
Moscow in 1941, that he had been waiting for the Germans. He 
had in actual fact stayed on longer than he should have, ap¬ 
parently because of some woman. Z-^v took great care to keep 

his business deals clean. But he quite forgot the existence of 
Article 58. Nonetheless, the avalanche might not have over¬ 
whelmed him had he not grown overconfident and refused to 
supply building materials for a certain prosecutor’s dacha. That 
was what caused his dormant case to awaken and tremble and 
start rolling. (And this was one more instance of the fact that 
cases begin with the material self-interest of the blueboys.) 

The scope of Z-v’s concepts of the world can be judged 

by the fact that he believed there was a Canadian language. 
During the course of two months in the cell, he did not read a 
single book, not even a whole page, and if he did read a para¬ 
graph, it was only to be distracted from his gloomy thoughts 
about his interrogation. It was clear from his conversation that he 
had read even less in freedom. He knew of Pushkin—as the hero 
of bawdy stories. And of Tolstoi he knew only, in all probability, 
that he was—a Deputy of the Supreme Soviet! 

On the other hand, was he a one hundred percent loyal Com¬ 
munist? Was he that same socially-conscious proletarian who 
had been brought up to replace Palchinsky and von Meek and 
their ilk? This was what was really surprising—^he was most cer¬ 
tainly not! We once discussed the whole course of the war with 
him, and I said that from the very first moment I had never had 
any doubts about our victory over the Germans. He looked at 
me sharply; he did not believe me. “Come on, what are you 
saying?” And then he took his head in his hands. “Oh, Sasha, 

First Cell, First Love \ 201 

Sasha, and I was convinced the Germans would win! That’s what 
did me in!” There you are! He was one of the “organizers of 
victory,” but each day he believed in the Germans’ success and 
awaited their inevitable arrival. Not because he loved them, but 
simply because he had so sober an insight into our economy 
(which I, of course, knew nothing about and therefore believed 

All of us in the cell were deeply depressed, but none of us 

was so crushed as Z -none took his arrest as so profound 

a tragedy. He learned from us that he would get no more than a 
tenner, that during his years in camp he would, of course, be a 
work superintendent, and that he would not have to experience 
real suffering, as indeed he never did. But this did not comfort 
him in the least. He was too stricken by the collapse of such a 
glorious life. After all, it was his one and only life on earth, and 
no one else’s, which had interested him all his thirty-six years. 
And more than once, sitting on his cot in front of the table, 
propping his pudgy head on his short, pudgy arm, he would start 
to sing quietly, in a singsong voice and with lost, befogged eyes: 

Forgotten and abandoned 
Since my young, early years, 

I was left a tiny orphan. . . . 

He could never get any further than that. At that point, he would 
break into explosive sobs. All that bursting strength which could 
not break through the walls that enclosed him he turned inward, 
toward self-pity. 

And toward pity for his wife. Every tenth day (since oftener 
was not allowed) his wife, long since unloved, brought him rich 
and bountiful food parcels—the whitest of white bread, butter, 
red caviar, veal, sturgeon. He would give each of us a sandwich 
and a twist of tobacco and then bend down to the provisions he 
had set before himself, delighting in odors and colors that con¬ 
trasted vividly with the bluish potatoes of the old underground 
revolutionary Fastenko. Then his tears would start to pour again, 
redoubled. He recalled out loud his wife’s tears, whole years of 
tears: some due to love notes she had found in his trousers, some 
to some woman’s underpants in his overcoat pocket, stuffed 
there hurriedly in his automobile and forgotten. And when he 
was thus torn by burning self-pity, his armor of evil energy fell 



away, and before us was a ruined and clearly a good person. 
I was astonished that he could sob so. The Estonian Arnold 
Susi, our cellmate with the gray brisdes in his hair, explained it 
to me: “Cruelty is invariably accompanied by sentimentality. 
It is the law of complementaries. For example, in the case of the 
Germans, the combination is a national trait.” 

Fastenko, on the other hand, was the most cheerful person 
in the cell, even though, in view of his age, he was the only one 
who could not count on surviving and returning to freedom. 
Flinging an arm around my shoulders, he would say: 

To stand up for the truth is nothing! 

For truth you have to sit in jail! 

Or else he taught me to sing this song from Tsarist hard-labor 

And if we have to perish 
In min es and prisons wet. 

Our cause wiU ever find renown 
In future generations yet 

And I beUeve this! May these pages help his faith come true! 

The sixteen-hour days in our cell were short on outward events, 
but they were so interesting that I, for example, now find a mere 
sixteen minutes’ wait for a trolley bus much more boring. There 
were no events worthy of attention, and yet by evening I would 
sigh because once more there had not been enough time, once 
more the day had flown. The events were trivial, but for the first 
time in my life I learned to look at them through a magnifying 

The most difiicult hours in the day were the first two. At the 
rattle of the key in the lock (for at the Lubyanka there were no 
“swill troughs,”^® and it was necessary to unlock the door even 

13. Special large openings in the cell doors of many Russian prisons [known 
to the prisoners as “kormushki,” meaning “swill troughs” or “fodder bins”]. 
Their lids dropped down to make tiny tables. Conversations with the jailers were 
carried on through these openings, food was handed through, and prison papers 
were shoved through for the prisoners to sign. 

First Cell, First Love \ 203 

to shout: “Time to get up!”), we jumped up without lingering, 
made our beds, and sat down on them feeling empty and helpless, 
with the electric light still burning. This enforced wakefulness 
from 6 A.M. on—at a time when the brain was still lazy from 
sleep, the whole world seemed repulsive and all of life wrecked, 
and there was not a gulp of air in the cell—^was particularly 
ludicrous for those who had been under interrogation all night 
and had only just been able to get to sleep. But don’t try to steal 
extra sleep! If you should try to doze off, leaning slightly against 
the wall, or propped over the table as if studying the chessboard, 
or relaxing over a book lying conspicuously open on your knees, 
the key would sound a warning knock on the door, or, worse yet, 
the door with that rattling lock would suddenly open silently, 
since the Lubyanka jailers were specially trained to do just that, 
and like a spirit passing through a wall, the swift and silent 
shadow of the junior sergeant would take three steps into the 
cell, hook onto you as you slept, and maybe take you off to 
the punishment cell; or maybe they would take book privileges 
away from the whole cell or deprive everyone of their daily walk 
—a cruel, unjust punishment for all, and there were other punish¬ 
ments, too, in the black lines of the prison regulations. Read 
them! They hang in every cell. If, incidentally, you needed 
glasses to read, then you wouldn’t be reading books or the 
sacred regulations either during those two starving hours. Eye¬ 
glasses were taken away every night, and it was evidently still 
“dangerous” for you to have them during those two hours when 
no one brought anything to the cell, and no one came to it. No 
one asked about anything, and no one was summoned—the inter¬ 
rogators were still sleeping sweetly. And the prison administra¬ 
tion was just opening its eyes, coming to. Only the vertukhai, 
the turnkeys, were active and energetic, opening the peephole 
cover once a minute for inspection.^^ 

But one procedure was carried out during those two hours: the 
morning trip to the toilet. When the guard roused us, he made 
an important announcement. He designated the person from our 

14. During my time this word “vertukhai” had already come into wide 
currency for the jailers. It was said to have originated with Ukrainian guards 
who were always ordering: “Stoi, ta ne vertukhais!” And yet it is also worth 
recalling the English word for jailer, “turnkey,” is “verti klyuch” in Russian. 
Perhaps a “vertukhai” here in Russia is also “one who turns the key.” 


cell who was to be entrusted with the responsibility of carrying 
out the latrine bucket. (In more isolated, ordinary prisons the 
prisoners had enough freedom of speech and self-government to 
decide this question themselves. But in the Chief Political Prison 
such an important event could not be left to chance.) So then 
you formed up in single file, hands behind your backs, and, at 
the head of the fine, the responsible latrine-bucket-bearer carried 
chest high the two-gallon tin pail with a lid on it. When you 
reached your goal, you were locked in again, each having first 
been handed a small piece of paper, the size of two railway tickets. 
(At the Lubyanka this was not particularly interesting. The paper 
was blank and white. But there were enticing prisons where they 
gave you pages of books—^and what reading that was! You could 
try to guess whence it came, read it over on both sides, digest the 
contents, evaluate the style—and when words had been cut in 
half that was particularly essential! You could trade with your 
comrades. In some places they handed out pages from the once 
progressive Granat Encyclopedia, and sometimes, it’s awful to 
say it, from the classics, and I don’t mean belles-lettres either. 
Visits to the toilet thus became a means of acquiring knowledge.) 

But there’s not that much to laugh at. We are dealing with 
that crude necessity which it is considered unsuitable to refer to 
in Uterature (although there, too, it has been said, with immortal 
adroitness: “Blessed is he who early in the morning . . .”). This 
allegedly natural start of the prison day set a trap for the prisoner 
that would grip him all day, a trap for his spirit—^which was 
what hurt. Given the lack of physical activity in prison, and the 
meager food, and the muscular relaxation of sleep, a person was 
just not able to square accounts with nature immediately after 
rising. Then they quickly returned you to the cell and locked you 
up—^until 6 P.M., or, in some prisons, until morning. At that 
point, you would start to get worried and worked up by the ap¬ 
proach of the daytime interrogation period and the events of the 
day itself, and you would be loading yourself up with your bread 
ration and water and gruel, but no one was going to let you visit 
that glorious accommodation again, easy access to which free 
people are incapable of appreciating. This debilitating, banal need 
could make itself felt day after day shortly after the morning 
toilet trip and would then torment you the whole day long, op- 

First Cell, First Love \ 205 

press you, rob you of the inclination to talk, read, think, and 
even of any desire to eat the meager food. 

People in the cells sometimes discussed how the Lubyanka 
system and schedule, and those in other prisons as well, had come 
into being, whether through calculated brutality or as a matter 
of chance. My opinion is that both factors are involved. The 
rising time is, obviously, a matter of malicious intent, but much 
of the rest evolved automatically at first (which is true of many 
of the brutalities of life generally) and was then discovered by 
the powers that be to be useful and was therefore made permanent. 
The shifts change at 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., and it was more con¬ 
venient for everyone to take the prisoners to the toilet at the end 
of a shift. (Letting them out singly in the middle of the day was 
extra trouble and meant extra precautions, and no one got paid 
for that.) The same was true of the business with eyeglasses: Why 
should one worry about that at 6 a.m.? They could be returned 
to the owners just before the end of the shift instead. 

So now we heard them being brought around—doors were 
being opened. We could guess whether someone wore them in the 
cell next door. (And didn’t your codefendant wear spectacles? 
But we didn’t feel up to knocking out a message on the wall. 
This was punished very severely.) A moment later they would 
bring the eyeglasses to our cell. Fastenko used them only for 
reading. But Susi needed them all the time. He could stop squint¬ 
ing once he’d put them on. Thanks to his horn-rimmed glasses 
and straight lines above the eyes, his face became severe, per¬ 
spicacious, exactly the face of an educated man of our century as 
we might picture it to ourselves. Back before the Revolution he 
had studied at the Faculty of History and Philology of the Uni¬ 
versity of Petrograd, and throughout his twenty years in inde¬ 
pendent Estonia he had preserved intact the purest Russian 
speech, which he spoke like a native. Later, in Tartu, he had 
studied law. In addition to Estonian, he spoke English and Ger¬ 
man, and through all these years he continued to read the London 
Economist and the German scientific “Berichte” summaries. He 
had studied the constitutions and the codes of law of various 
countries—and in our cell he represented Europe worthily and 
with restraint. He had been a leading lawyer in Estonia and been 
known as “kuldsuu”—^meaning “golden-tongued.” 


There was new activity in the corridor. A free-loader in a gray 
smock—a husky young fellow who had certainly not been at the 
front—^brought a tray with our five bread rations and ten lumps 
of sugar. Our cell stoolie hovered over them, even though we 
would inevitably cast lots for them—^which we did because every 
least detail of this was important: the heel of the loaf, for instance, 
and the number of smaller pieces needed to make the total weight 
come out right, and how the crust adheres, or doesn’t, to the 
inside of the bread—and it was better that fate should decide.^® 
But the stoolie felt he just had to hold everything in his hands for 
at least a second so that some bread and sugar molecules would 
cling to his palms. 

That pound of unrisen wet bread, with its swamplike sogginess 
of texture, made half with potato flour, was our crutch and the 
main event of the day. Life had begun! The day had begun—^this 
was when it began! And everyone had countless problems. Had 
he allocated his bread ration wisely the day before? Should he 
cut it with a thread? Or break it up greedily? Or slowly, quietly 
nip off pieces one by one? Should he wait for tea or pile into it 
right now? Should he leave some for dinner or finish it off at 
lunch? And how much? 

In addition to these wretched dilemmas, what wide-ranging 
discussions and arguments went on (for our tongues had been 
liberated and with bread we were once more men) provoked by 
this one-pound chunk in our hand, consisting more of water than 
of grain. (Incidentally, Fastenko explained that the workers of 
Moscow were eating the very same bread at that time.) And, gen¬ 
erally speaking, was there any real breadgrain in this bread at all? 
And what additives were in it? (There was at least one person in 
every cell who knew all about additives, for, after all, who hadn’t 
eaten them during these past decades?) Discussions and remi¬ 
niscences began. About the white bread they had baked back in 
the twenties—springy round loaves, like sponge cake inside, with 
a buttery reddish-brown top crust and a bottom crust that still 
had a trace of ash from the coals of the hearth—that bread had 

15. Where indeed in our country did this casting of lots not happen? It was 
the result of our universal and endless hunger. In the army, all rations were 
divided up the same way. And the Germans, who could hear what was going 
on from their trenches, teased us about it: “Who gets it? The political com¬ 

First Cell, First Love \ 207 

vanished for good! Those born in 1930 would never know what 
bread is. Friends, this is a forbidden subject! We agreed not to 
say one word about food. 

Once again there was movement in the corridor—tea was being 
brought around. A new young tough in a gray smock carrying 
pails. We put our teapot out in the corridor and he poured 
straight into it from a pail without a spout—^into the teapot and 
onto the runner and the floor beneath it. And the whole corridor 
was polished like that of a first-class hotel.^® 

And that was all they gave us. Whatever cooked food we got 
would be served at 1 p.m. and at 4 p.m., one meal almost on the 
heels of the other. You could then spend the next twenty-one 
hours remembering it. (And that wasn’t prison brutality either: it 
was simply a matter of the kitchen staff having to do its work as 
quickly as possible and leave.) 

At nine o’clock the morning check-up took place. For a long 
while beforehand, we could hear especially loud turns of the key 
and particularly sharp knocks on the doors. Then one of the duty 
lieutenants for the whole floor would march forward and enter, 
almost as erect as if he were standing at attention. He would take 
two steps forward and look sternly at us. We would be on our 
feet. (We didn’t even dare remember that political prisoners were 
once not required to rise.) It was no work at all to count us— 
he could do it in a glance—^but this was a moment for testing our 
rights. For we did have some rights, after all, although we did not 
really know them, and it was his job to hide them from us. The 
whole strength of the Lubyanka training showed itself in a totally 
machinelike manner; no expression on the face, no inflection, not 
a superfluous word. 

And which of our rights did we know about? A request to have 
our shoes repaired. An appointment with the doctor. Although 
if they actually took you to the doctor, you would not be happy 

16. Soon the biologist Timofeyev-Ressovsky, whom I have already men¬ 
tioned, would be brought here from Berlin. There was nothing at the Lubyanka, 
it appeared, which so offended him as this spilling on the floor. He considered it 
striking evidence of the lack of professional pride on the part of the jailers, 
and of all of us in our chosen work. He multiplied the 27 years of Lubyanka’s 
existence as a prison by 730 times (twice for each day of the year), and then 
by 111 cells—and he would seethe for a long time because it was easier to 
spill boiling water on the floor 2,188,000 times and then come and wipe it up 
with a rag the same number of times than to make pails with spouts. 


about the consequences. There the machinelike Lubyanka manner 
would be particularly striking. He didn’t ask: “What’s your 
trouble?” That would take too many words, and one couldn’t 
pronounce the phrase without any inflection. He would ask curtly; 
“Troubles?” And if you began to talk at too great length about 
your ailment, he would cut you off. It was clear anyway. A tooth¬ 
ache? Extract it. You could have arsenic. A filling? We don’t 
fill teeth here. (That would have required additional appoint¬ 
ments and created a somewhat humane atmosphere.) 

The prison doctor was the interrogator’s and executioner’s 
right-hand man. The beaten prisoner would come to on the floor 
only to hear the doctor’s voice: “You can continue, the pulse is 
normal.” After a prisoner’s five days and nights in a punishment 
cell the doctor inspects the frozen, naked body and says: “You 
can continue.” If a prisoner is beaten to death, he signs the death 
certificate: “Cirrhosis of the liver” or “Coronary occlusion.” He 
gets an urgent call to a dying prisoner in a cell and he takes his 
time. And whoever behaves differently is not kept on in the 

But our stoolie was better informed about his rights. (Accord¬ 
ing to him he had already been under interrogation eleven months. 
And he was taken to interrogation only during the day.) He spoke 
up and asked for an appointment with the prison chief. What, the 
chief of the whole Lubyanka? Yes. His name was taken down. 
(And in the evening, after taps, when the interrogators were al¬ 
ready in their offices, he was summoned. And he returned with 
some makhorka.) This was very crude, of course, but so far they 
had not been able to think up anything better. It would have been 
a big expense to convert entirely to microphones in the walls and 
impossible to listen in on all 111 cells for whole days at a time. 
Who would do it? Stool pigeons were cheaper and would continue 
to be used for a long time to come. But Kramarenko had a hard 
time with us. Sometimes he eavesdropped so hard that the sweat 
poured from him, and we could see from his face that he didn’t 
imderstand what we were saying. 

There was one additional right—^the privilege of writing appli¬ 
cations and petitions (which replaced freedom of the press, of 
assembly, and of the ballot, all of which we had lost when we 

17. Dr. F. P. Gaaz would have earned nothing extra in our country. 

First Cell, First Love \ 209 

left freedom). Twice a month the morning duty officer asked: 
“Who wants to write a petition?” And they listed everyone who 
wanted to. In the middle of the day they would lead you to an 
individual box and lock you up in it. In there, you could write 
whomever you pleased: the Father of the Peoples, the Central 
Committee of the Party, the Supreme Soviet, Minister Beria, 
Minister Abakumov, the General Prosecutor, the Chief Military 
Prosecutor, the Prison Administration, the Investigation Depart¬ 
ment. You could complain about your arrest, your interrogator, 
even the chief of the prison! In each and every case your petition 
would have no effect whatever. It would not be stapled into any 
ffle, and the most senior official to read it would be your own 
interrogator. However, you were in no position to prove this. In 
fact, it was rather more likely that he would not read it, because 
no one would be able to read it. On a piece of paper measuring 
seven by ten centimeters—^in other words, three by four inches— 
a little larger than the paper given you each morning at the 
toilet, with a pen broken in the middle or bent into a hook, and 
an inkwell with pieces of rag in it and ink diluted with water, you 
would just be able to scratch out “Petit . . .” Then the letters 
would all run together on the cheap paper, “ion” couldn’t be 
worked into the line, and everything would come through on the 
other side of the sheet. 

You might have still other rights, but the duty officer would 
keep quiet about them. And you wouldn’t be losing much, truth 
to tell, even if you didn’t find out about them. 

The check-up came and went. And the day began. The inter¬ 
rogators were already arriving there somewhere. The turnkey 
would summon one of us with a great air of secrecy; he called out 
the first letter of the name only. Like this: “Whose name begins 
with ‘S’?” and: “Whose name begins with ‘F’?” Or perhaps: 
“Whose begins with ‘M’?—^with ‘Am’?” And you yourself had to 
be quick-witted enough to recognize that it was you he wanted 
and offer yourself as a victim. This system was introduced to 
prevent mistakes on the jailer’s part. He might have called out a 
name in the wrong cell, and that way we might have found out 
who else was in prison. And yet, though cut off from the entire 
prison, we were not deprived of news from other cells. Because 
they tried to crowd in as many prisoners as possible, they shuffled 


them about from cell to cell, and every newcomer brought all his 
accumulated experience to his new cell. Thus it was that we, 
imprisoned on the fourth floor, knew all about the cellar cells, 
about the boxes on the first floor, about the darkness on the second 
floor, where the women were all kept, about the split-level arrange¬ 
ment of the fifth, and about the biggest cell of all on the fifth 
floor—^No. 111. Before my time, the children’s writer Bondarin 
had been a prisoner in our cell, and before that he had been on 
the women’s floor with some Polish correspondent or other, who 
had previously been a cellmate of Field Marshal von Paulus—and 
that was how we learned all the details about von Paulus. 

The period for being summoned to interrogation passed. And 
for those left in the cell a long, pleasant day stretched ahead, 
lightened by opportunities and not overly darkened by duties. 
Duties could include sterilizing the cots with a blow torch twice 
a month. (At the Lubyanka, matches were categorically for¬ 
bidden to prisoners; to get a light for a cigarette we had to signal 
patiently with a finger when the peephole was opened, thus asking 
the jailer for a light. But blow torches were entrusted to us with¬ 
out hesitation.) And once a week we might be called into the 
corridor to have our faces clipped with a dull clipper—allegedly 
a right but strongly resembling a duty. And one might be as¬ 
signed the duty of cleaning the parquet floor in the cell. (Z- v 

always avoided this work because it was beneath his dignity, like 
any other work, in fact.) We got out of breath quickly because 
we were underfed; otherwise we would have considered this duty 
a privilege. It was such gay, lively work—pushing the brush 
forward with one’s bare foot, torso pulled back, and then turn 
about; forward-back, forward-back, and forget all your grief! 
Shiny as a mirror! A Potemkin prison! 

Besides, we didn’t have to go on being overcrowded in our 
old Cell 67 any longer. In the middle of March they added a sixth 
prisoner to our number, and since here in the Lubyanka they did 
not fill all the cells with board bunks, nor make you sleep on the 
floor, they transferred all of us into a beauty of a cell—^No. 53. 
(I would advise anyone who has not yet been in it to pay it a 
visit.) This was not a cell. It was a palace chamber set aside as a 
sleeping apartment for distinguished travelers! The Rossiya In¬ 
surance Company, without a thought for economy, had raised the 

First Cell, First Love \ 211 

height of the ceiling in this wing to sixteen and a half feet.^® (Oh, 
what four-story bunks the chief of counterintelligence at the 
front would have slapped in here. And he could have gotten one 
hundred people in, results guaranteed.) And the window! It 
was such an enormous window that standing on its sill the jailer 
could hardly reach the “fortochka,” that hinged ventilation pane. 
One section of this window alone would have made a fine whole 
window in an ordinary house. Only the riveted steel sheets of the 
muzzle closing off four-fifths of it reminded us that we were not 
in a palace after aU. 

Nonetheless, on clear days, above this muzzle, from the wall 
of the Lubyanka courtyard, from some windowpane or other on 
the sixth or seventh floor, we now and then got a pale reflection 
of a ray of sunlight. To us it was a real ray of sunlight—a living, 
dear being! We followed with affection its climb up the wall. 
And every step it made was filled with meaning, presaging the 
time of our daily outing in the fresh air, counting off several half- 
hours before lunch. Then, just before lunch, it disappeared. 

And our rights included being let out for a walk, reading books, 
telling one another about the past, Ustening and learning, arguing 
and being educated! And we would be rewarded by a lunch that 
included two courses! Too good to be true! 

The walk was bad on the first three floors of the Lubyanka. 
The prisoners were let out into a damp, low-lying little courtyard 
—the bottom of a narrow well between the prison buildings. But 
the prisoners on the fourth and fifth floors, on the other hand, 
were taken to an eagle’s perch—on the roof of the fifth floor. It 
had a concrete floor; there were concrete walls three times the 
height of a man; we were accompanied by an unarmed jailer; on 
the watch tower was a sentinel with an automatic weapon. But 
the air was real and the sky was real! “Hands behind your back! 
Line up in pairs! No talking! No stopping!” Such were the com¬ 
mands, but they forgot to forbid us to throw back our heads. 
And, of course, we did just that. Here one could see not a re- 

18. This company acquired a piece of Moscow earth that was well ac¬ 
quainted with blood. The innocent Vereshchagin was torn to pieces in 1812 
on Furkasovsky, near the Rostopchin house. And the murderess and serf-owner 
Saltychikha lived—and killed serfs—on the other side of the Bolshaya Lub¬ 
yanka. {Po Moskve [In Moscow], edited by N. A. Geinike and others, Moscow, 
Sabashnikov Publishers, 1917, p. 231.) 


fleeted, not a secondhand Sun, but the real one! The real, eternally 
living Sun itself! Or its golden diffusion through the spring clouds. 

Spring promises everyone happiness—^and tenfold to the pris¬ 
oner. Oh, April sky! It didn’t matter that I was in prison. Evi¬ 
dently, they were not going to shoot me. And in the end I would 
become wiser here. I would come to understand many things 
here. Heaven! I would correct my mistakes yet, O Heaven, not 
for them but for you. Heaven! I had come to understand those 
mistakes here, and I would correct them! 

As if from a pit, from the far-off lower reaches, from Dzer¬ 
zhinsky Square, the hoarse earthly singing of the automobile 
horns rose to us in a constant refrain. To those who were dashing 
along to the tune of those honkings, they seemed the trumpets 
of creation, but from here their insignificance was very clear. 

The walk in the fresh air lasted only twenty minutes, but how 
much there was about it to concern oneself with; how much one 
had to accomplish while it lasted. 

In the first place, it was very interesting to try to figure out 
the layout of the entire prison while they were taking you there 
and back, and to calculate where those tiny hanging courtyards 
were, so that at some later date, out in freedom, one could walk 
along the square and spot their location. We made many turns 
on the way there, and I invented the following system: Starting 
from the cell itself, I would count every turn to the right as plus 
one, and every turn to the left as minus one. And, no matter how 
quickly they made us turn, the idea was not to try to picture it 
hastily to oneself, but to count up the total. If, in addition, 
through some staircase window, you could catch a glimpse of the 
backs of the Lubyanka water nymphs, half-reclining against the 
pillared turret which hovered over fixe square itself, and you could 
remember the exact point in your count when this happened, then 
back in the cell you could orient yourself and figure out what 
your own window looked out on. 

And during that outdoor walk you concentrated on breathing 
as much fresh air as possible. 

There, too, alone beneath that bright heaven, you had to im¬ 
agine your bright future life, sinless and without error. 

There, too, was the best place of all to talk about the most 
dangerous subjects. It didn’t matter that conversation during the 

First Cell, First Love | 213 

walk was forbidden. One simply had to know how to manage it. 
The compensation was that in all likelihood you could not be over¬ 
heard either by a stoolie or by a microphone. 

During these walks I tried to get into a pair with Susi. We 
talked together in the cell, but we liked to try talking about the 
main things here. We hadn’t come together quickly. It took some 
time. But he had already managed to tell me a great deal. I 
acquired a new capability from him: to accept patiently and pur¬ 
posefully things that had never had any place in my own plans 
and had, it seemed, no connection at all with the clearly outlined 
direction of my life. From childhood on, I had somehow known 
that my objective was the history of the Russian Revolution and 
that nothing else concerned me. To understand the Revolution I 
had long since required nothing beyond Marxism. I cut myself 
off from everything else that came up and turned my back on it. 
And now fate brought me together with Susi. He breathed a com¬ 
pletely different sort of air. And he would tell me passionately 
about his own interests, and these were Estonia and democracy. 
And although I had never expected to become interested in 
Estonia, much less bourgeois democracy, I nevertheless kept 
listening and listening to his loving stories of twenty free years 
in that modest, work-loving, small nation of big men whose ways 
were slow and set. I listened to the principles of the Estonian con¬ 
stitution, which had been borrowed from the best of European 
experience, and to how their hundred-member, one-house parlia¬ 
ment had worked. And, though the why of it wasn’t clear, I began 
to like it all and store it all away in my experience.^® I listened 
willingly to their fatal history: the tiny Estonian anvil had, from 
way, way back, been caught between two hammers, the Teutons 
and the Slavs. Blows showered on it from East and West in turn; 
there was no end to it, and there still isn’t. And there was the well- 
known (totally unknown) story of how we Russians wanted to 
take them over in one fell swoop in 1918, but they refused to 
yield. And how, later on, Yudenich spoke contemptuously of their 
Finnish heritage, and we ourselves christened them “White Guard 
Bandits.” Then the Estonian gymnasium students enrolled as 
volunteers. We struck at Estonia again in 1940, and again in 

19. Susi remembered me later as a strange mixture of Marxist and democrat. 
Yes, things were wildly mixed up inside me at that time. 


1941, and again in 1944. Some of their sons were conscripted by 
the Russian Army, and others by the German Army, and still 
others ran off into the woods. The elderly Tallinn intellectuals 
discussed how they might break out of that iron ring, break away 
somehow, and live for themselves and by themselves. Their 
Premier might, possibly, have been Tief, and their Minister of 
Education, say, Susi. But neither Churchill nor Roosevelt cared 
about them in the least; but “Uncle Joe” did. And during the 
very first nights after the Soviet armies entered Tallinn, all these 
dreamers were seized in their Tallinn apartments. Fifteen of them 
were imprisoned in various cells of the Moscow Lubyanka, one in 
each, and were charged under Article 58-2 with the criminal 
desire for national self-determination. 

Each time we returned to the cell from our walk was like 
being arrested again. Even in our very special cell the air seemed 
stifling after the outdoors. And it would have been good to have 
a snack afterward too. But it was best not to think about it— 
not at all. It was bad if one of the prisoners who received food 
parcels tactlessly spread out his treasures at the wrong time and 
began to eat. All right, we’ll develop self-control! It was bad, 
too, to be betrayed by the author of the book you were reading— 
if he began to drool over food in the greatest detail. Get away 
from me, Gogol! Get away from me, Chekhov, too! They both 
had too much food in their books. “He didn’t really feel like 
eating, but nevertheless he ate a helping of veal and drank some 
beer.” The son-of-a-bitch! It was better to read spiritual things! 
Dostoyevsky was the right kind of author for prisoners to read! 
Yet even in Dostoyevsky you could find that passage “The chil¬ 
dren went hungry. For several days they had seen nothing but 
bread and sausage.” 

The Lubyanka library was the prison’s principal ornament. 
True, the librarian was repulsive—a blond spinster with a horsy 
build, who did everything possible to make herself ugly. Her 
face was so whitened that it looked like a doll’s immobile mask; 
her lips were purple; and her plucked eyebrows were black. (You 
might say that was her own business, but we would have enjoyed 
it more if she had been a charmer. However, perhaps the chief 
of the Lubyanka had already taken that into consideration?) 
But here was a wonder: once every ten days, when she came to 

First Cell, First Love \ 215 

take away our books, she listened to our requests for new ones! 
She heard us out in that same machinelike, inhuman Lubyanka 
manner, and it was impossible to judge whether she had heard 
the authors’ names or die titles, whether, indeed, she had heard 
our words at all. She would leave, and we would experience 
several hours of nervous but happy expectation. During those 
hours all the books we had returned were leafed through and 
checked. They were examined in case we had left pinpricks or 
dots underneath certain letters—^for there was such a method 
of clandestine intramural communication—or we had underlined 
passages we liked with a fingernail. We were worried even though 
we were totally innocent. They might come to us and say that 
they had discovered pinpricks. They were always right, of course; 
and, as always, no proof was required. And on that basis we could 
be deprived of books for three months—if, indeed, they didn’t put 
the whole cell on a punishment-ceU regime. It would be very 
sad to have to do without books during the best and brightest of 
our prison months, before we were tossed into the pit of camp. 
Indeed, we were not only afraid; we actually trembled, just, as 
we had in youth after sending a love letter, while we waited for 
an answer. Will it come or not? And what will it say? 

Then at last the books arrived and determined the pattern of 
the next ten days. They would decide whether we would chiefly 
concentrate on reading or, if they had brought us trash, be spend¬ 
ing more time in conversation. They brought exactly as many 
books as there were people in the cell, this being the sort of 
calculation appropriate to a bread cutter and not a librarian: one 
book for one person, six books for six persons. The cells with the 
largest number of prisoners were the best off. 

Sometimes the spinster would fill our orders miraculously. But 
even when she was careless about them, things could turn out 
interestingly. Because the library of the Big Lubyanka was unique. 
In aU probability it had been assembled out of confiscated private 
libraries. The bibliophiles who had collected those books had al¬ 
ready rendered up their souls to God. But the main thing was that 
while State Security had been busy censoring and emasculating 
all the libraries of the nation for decades, it forgot to dig in its 
own bosom. Here, in its very den, one could read Ziamyatin, Pil- 
nyak, Panteleimon Romanov, and any volume at all of the com- 


plete works of Merezhkovsky. (Some people wisecracked that 
they allowed us to read forbidden books because they already re¬ 
garded us as dead. But I myself think that the Lubyaidca librarians 
hadn’t the faintest concept of what they were giving us—^they 
were simply lazy and ignorant.) 

We used to read intensively during the hours before lunch. But 
it sometimes happened that a single phrase would get you going 
and drive you to pace from window to door, from door to window. 
And you would want to show somebody what you had read and 
explain what it implied, and then an argument would get started. 
It was a time for sharp arguments, as well! 

I often argued with Yuri Y. 

On that March morning when they led the five of us into palatial 
Cell 53, they had just added a sixth prisoner to our group. 

He entered, it seemed, like a spirit, and his shoes made no 
noise against the floor. He entered and, not sure that he could 
stay on his feet, leaned against the door frame. The bulb had 
been turned off in the cell and the morning light was dim. How¬ 
ever, the newcomer did not have his eyes wide open. He squinted, 
and he kept silent. 

The cloth of his military field jacket and trousers did not 
identify him as coming from the Soviet, or the German, or the 
Polish, or the English Army. The structure of his face was elong¬ 
ated. There was very little Russian in it. And he was painfully 
thin. And not only very thin but very taU. 

We spoke to him in Russian—and he kept silent. Susi addressed 
him in German—^he still kept silent. Fastenko tried French and 
English—^with the same result. Only gradually did a smile appear 
on his emaciated, yellow, half-dead face—^the only such smile I 
had ever seen in my life. 

“Pee-eeple,” he uttered weakly, as if he were coming out of a 
faint, or as if he had been waiting all night long to be executed. 
And he reached out his weak, emaciated hand. It held a small 
bundle tied up in a rag. Our stoolie understood instantly what was 
in it, threw himself on it, grabbed it, and opened it up on the table. 
There was half a pound of light tobacco. He had instantly man- 

First Cell, First Love 


aged to roll himself a cigarette four times the size of an ordi¬ 
nary one. 

Thus, after three weeks’ confinement in a cellar box, Yuri 
Nikolayevich Y. made his appearance in our cell. 

From the time of the 1929 incidents on the Chinese Eastern 
Railroad, the song had been sung throughout the land: 

Its steel breast brushing aside our enemies. 

The 27th stands on guard! 

The chief of artillery of this 27th Infantry Division, formed 
back in the Civil War, was the Tsarist officer Nikolai Y. (I re¬ 
membered the name because it was the name of one of the 
authors of our artillery textbook.) In a heated freight car that 
had been converted into Uving quarters, and always accompanied 
by his wife, this artillery officer had crossed and recrossed the 
Volga and the Urals, sometimes moving east and sometimes west. 
It was in this heated freight car that his son, Yuri, born in 1917, 
and twin brother, therefore, of the Revolution itself, spent his 
first years. 

That was a long time ago. Since then his father had settled in 
Leningrad, in the Academy, and lived well and frequented high 
circles, and the son graduated from the officer candidate school. 
During the Finnish War, Yuri wanted desperately to fight for 
the Motherland, and friends of his father got him an appointment 
as an aide on an army staff. Yuri did not have to crawl on his 
stomach to destroy the Finns’ concrete artillery emplacements, nor 
get trapped and encircled on a scouting mission, nor freeze in 
the snow under sniper bullets—^but his service was nevertheless 
rewarded, not with some ordinary decoration, but with the Order 
of the Red Banner, which fitted neatly on his field shirt. Thus he 
completed the Finnish War in full consciousness of its justice and 
his own part in it. 

But he didn’t have things so easy in the next war. The battery 
he commanded was surrounded near Luga. They scattered and 
were caught and driven off into prisoner-of-war camps. Yuri 
found himself in a concentration camp for officers near Vilnius. 

In every life there is one particular event that is decisive for 
the entire person—^for his fate, his convictions, his passions. Two 
years in that camp shook Yuri up once and for all. It is impossible 


to catch with words or to circumvent with syllogisms what that 
camp was. That was a camp to die in—and whoever did not die 
was compelled to reach certain conclusions. 

Among those who could survive were the Ordners—^the in¬ 
ternal camp police or Polizei—chosen from among the prisoners. 
Of course, Yuri did not become an Ordner. The cooks managed 
to survive too. The translators could survive also—^they needed 
them. But though Yuri had a superb command of conversational 
German, he concealed this fact. He realized that a translator 
would have to betray his fellow prisoners. One could also post¬ 
pone dying by digging graves, but others stronger and more 
dexterous got those jobs. Yuri announced that he was an artist. 
And, actually, as part of his varied education at home, he had 
been given lessons in painting. Yuri didn’t paint badly in oils, 
and only his desire to follow in his father’s footsteps—^for he had 
been proud of his father—^had kept him from entering art school. 

Together with an elderly artist (I regret that I don’t remember 
his name) he occupied a separate room in the barracks. And 
there Yuri painted for nothing schmaltzy pictures such as Nero’s 
Feast and the Chorus of Elves and the like for the German 
officers on the commandant’s staff. In return, he was given food. 
The slops for which the POW officers stood in line with their 
mess tins from 6 a.m. on, while the Ordners beat them with 
sticks and the cooks with ladles, were not enough to sustain life. 
At evening, Yuri could see from the windows of their room the 
one and only picture for which his artistic talent had been given 
him: the evening mist hovering above a swampy meadow en¬ 
circled by barbed wire; a multitude of bonfires; and, around the 
bonfires, beings who had once been Russian officers but had now 
become beastlike creatures who gnawed the bones of dead horses, 
who baked patties from potato rinds, who smoked manure and 
were all swarming with lice. Not all those two-legged creatures 
had died as yet. Not all of them had yet lost the capacity for in¬ 
telligible speech, and one could see in the crimson reflections of 
the bonfires how a belated understanding was dawning on those 
faces which were descending to the Neanderthal. 

Wormwood on the tongue! That life which Yuri had preserved 
was no longer precious to him for its own sake. He was not one 
of those who easily agree to forget. No, if he was going to survive, 
he was obliged to draw certain conclusions. 

First Cell, First Love \ 219 

It was already clear to them that the Germans were not the 
heart of the matter, or at least not the Germans alone; that among 
the POW’s of many nationalities only the Soviets lived like this 
and died like this. None were worse off than the Soviets. Even the 
Poles, even the Yugoslavs, existed in far more tolerable condi¬ 
tions; and as for the English and the Norwegians, they were in¬ 
undated by the International Red Cross with parcels from home. 
They didn’t even bother to line up for the German rations. Wher¬ 
ever there were Allied POW camps next door, their prisoners, 
out of kindness, threw our men handouts over the fence, and 
our prisoners jumped on these gifts like a pack of dogs on a 

The Russians were carrying the whole war on their shoulders 
—and this was the Russian lot. Why? 

Gradually, explanations came in from here and there: it turned 
out that the U.S.S.R. did not recognize as binding Russia’s signa¬ 
ture to the Hague Convention on war prisoners. That meant that 
the U.S.S.R. accepted no obligations at all in the treatment of war 
prisoners and took no steps for the protection of its own soldiers 
who had been captured.^® The U.S.S.R. did not recognize the In¬ 
ternational Red Cross. The U.S.S.R. did not recognize its own 
soldiers of the day before: it did not intend to give them any 
help as POW’s. 

And the heart of Yuri, enthusiastic twin of the October Revo¬ 
lution, grew cold. In their barracks room, he and the elderly artist 
clashed and argued. It was difficult for Yuri to accept. Yuri re¬ 
sisted. But the old man kept peeling off layer after layer. What 
was it all about? Stalin? But wasn’t it too much to ascribe every¬ 
thing to Stalin, to those stubby hands? He who draws a con¬ 
clusion only halfway fails to draw it at all. What about the rest 
of them? The ones right next to Stalin and below him, and every¬ 
where around the country—all those whom the Motherland had 
authorized to speak for it? 

What is the right course of action if our mother has sold us to 

20. We did not recognize that 1907 Convention until 1955. Incidentally, in 
his diary for 1915, Melgunov reports rumors that Russia would not let aid go 
through for its prisoners in Germany and that their living conditions were 
worse than those of all other Allied prisoners—simply in order to prevent 
rumors about the good life of war prisoners inducing our soldiers to surrender 
willingly. There was some sort of continuity of ideas here. (Melgunov, Vos- 
pominaniya i Dnevniki, Vol. I, pp. 199 and 203.) 


the gypsies? No, even worse, thrown us to the dogs? Does she 
really remain our mother? If a wife has become a whore, are we 
really still boimd to her in fidelity? A Motherland that betrays its 
soldiers—^is that really a Motherland? 

And everything turned topsy-turvy for Yuri! He used to take 
pride in his father—^now he cursed him! For the first time he 
began to consider that his father had, in essence, betrayed his oath 
to that army in which he had been brought up—had betrayed it 
in order to help estabUsh this system which now betrayed its own 
soldiers. Why, then, was Yuri bound by bis own oath to that 
traitorous system? 

When, in the spring of 1943, recruiters from the first Byelorus¬ 
sian “legions” put in an appearance, some POW’s signed up with 
them to escape starvation. Yuri went with them out of conviction, 
with a clear mind. But he didn’t stay in the legion for long. As 
the saying goes: “Once they’ve skinned you, there’s no point in 
grieving over the wool.” By this time Yuri had given up hiding 
his excellent knowledge of German, and soon a certain Chief, a 
German from near Kassel, who had been assigned to create an 
espionage school with an accelerated wartime output, took Yuri 
as his right-hand man. And that was how Yuri began the down¬ 
ward slide he had not foreseen. That was how things got turned 
around. Yuri passionately desired to free his Motherland, and 
what did they do but shove him into training spies? The Germans 
had their own plans. Just where could one draw the line? Which 
step was the fatal one? Yuri became a lieutenant in the German 
Army. He traveled through Germany, in German uniform, spent 
some time in Berlin, visited Russian emigres, and read authors 
like Bunin, Nabokov, Aldanov, Amfiteatrov, whose works were 
forbidden at home. Yuri had anticipated that in all their writing, 
in Bunin’s, for example, the blood flowing from Russia’s living 
wounds would pour from every page. What was wrong with 
them? To what did they devote their unutterably precious free¬ 
dom? To the female body, to ecstasy, sunsets, the beauty of noble 
brows, to anecdotes going back to dusty years. They wrote as if 
there had been no revolution in Russia, or as if it were too com¬ 
plex for them to explain. They left it to young Russian people to 
find for themselves what was highest in life. And Yuri dashed 
back and forth, in a hurry to see, in a hurry to know, and mean- 

First Cell, First Love | 221 

while, in accordance with ancient Russian tradition, he kept 
drowning his confusion more and more often and more and more 
deeply in vodka. 

>^at was their spy school really? It was, of course, not a real 
one. All they could be taught in six months was to master the 
parachute, the use of explosives, and the use of portable radios. 
The Germans put no special trust in them. In sending them 
across the lines they were simply whistling in the dark. And for 
those dying, hopelessly abandoned Russian POW’s, those schools, 
in Yuri’s opinion, were a good way out. The men ate their fill, 
got new warm clothing, and, in addition, had their pockets 
stuffed with Soviet money. The students (and their teachers) 
acted as if all this nonsense were genuine—as if they would 
actually carry out spying missions in the Soviet rear, blow up the 
designated objectives, get back in touch with the Germans via 
radio, and return to the German lines. But in reality in their 
eyes this school was simply a means of sidestepping death and 
captivity. They wanted to live, but not at the price of shooting 
their own compatriots at the front.^^ The Germans sent them 
across the front lines, and from then on their free choice depended 
on their own morality and conscience. They all threw away their 
TNT and radio apparatus immediately. The only point on which 
they differed was whether to surrender to the authorities immedi¬ 
ately, like the snub-nosed “shhpy” I had encountered at army 
counterintelligence headquarters, or whether to get drunk first 
and have some fun squandering all that free money. None of them 
ever recrossed the front lines to the Germans. 

Suddenly, as the new year of 1945 approached, one smart 
fellow did return and reported he had carried out his assignment. 
(Just go and check on it!) He created a sensation. The Chief 
hadn’t the slightest doubt that SMERSH had sent him back and 
decided to shoot him. (The fate of a conscientious spy!) But Yuri 
insisted that he be given a decoration instead and held up as an 

21. Of course, our Soviet interrogators did not accept this line of reasoning. 
What right did they have to want to live—at a time when privileged families 
in the Soviet rear lived well without collaborating? No one ever thought of 
considering that these boys had refused to take up German arms against their 
own people. For playing spies, they were nailed with the very worst and most 
serious charges of all—^Article 58-6, plus sabotage with intent. This meant: to 
be held until dead. 


example to the others taking the course. The returned “spy” 
invit^ Yuri to drink a quart of vodka with him and, crimson 
from drink, leaned across the table and disclosed: “Yuri Nikola¬ 
yevich! The Soviet Command promises you forgiveness if you will 
come over to us immediately.” 

Yuri trembled. And that heart which had already grown hard, 
which had renounced everything, was flooded with warmth. The 
Motherland? Accursed, unjust, but nonetheless still precious! 
Forgiveness? And he could go back to his own family? And 
walk along Kamennoostrovsky in Leningrad? All right, so what? 
We are Russian! If you will forgive us, we will return, and we 
will behave ourselves, oh, how well! That year and a half since 
he had left the POW camp had not brought Yuri happiness. He 
did not repent, but he could see no future either. And when, 
while drinWng, he encountered other such unrepentant Russians, 
he learned that they realized clearly that they had nothing to 
stand on. It wasn’t real life. The Germans were twisting them to 
.suit themselves. But now, when the Germans were obviously 
losing the war, Yuri had been offered an out. His Chief, who 
liked him, confided that he had a second estate in Spain which 
they could head for together if the German Reich went up in 
smoke. But there across the table sat his drunken compatriot, 
coaxing him at the risk of his own life: “Yuri Nikolayevich! The 
Soviet Command values your experience and knowledge. They 
want you to tell them about the organization of the German in¬ 
telligence service.” 

For two weeks Yuri was torn by hesitation. But during the 
Soviet offensive beyond the Vistula, after he had led his school 
well out of the way, he ordered them to turn in to a quiet Polish 
farm, lined them all up, and declared: “I am going over to the 
Soviet side! There is a free choice for everyone!” And these 
sad-sack spies, with the milk hardly dry on their lips, who just 
one hour before had pretended loyalty to the German Reich, now 
cried out with enthusiasm: “Hurrah! Us too!” (They were shout¬ 
ing “hurrah” for their future lives at hard labor.) 

Then the entire spy school hid until the arrival of the Soviet 
tanks; and then came SMERSH. Yuri saw his boys no more. 
They took him off by himself and gave him ten days to describe 
the whole history of the school, the programs, the sabotage 
assignments. He really thought that they valued his “experience 

First Cell, First Love | 223 

and knowledge.” They were already talking about his going 
home to his family. 

Only when he arrived at the Lubyanka did he realize that even 
in Salamanca he would have been closer to his native Neva. He 
could now await being shot, or, in any case, a sentence of cer¬ 
tainly not less than twenty years. 

So immutably does a human being surrender to the mist of the 
Motherland! Just as a tooth will not stop aching until the nerve 
is killed, so is it with us; we shall probably not stop responding 
to the call of the Motherland until we swallow arsenic. The lotus- 
eaters in the Odyssey knew of a certain lotus for that purpose... . 

In all, Yuri spent three weeks in our cell. I argued with him 
during all those weeks. I said that our Revolution was magnificent 
and just; that only its 1929 distortion was terrible. He looked at 
me regretfully, compressing his nervous lips: before trying our 
hands at revolution, we should have exterminated the bedbugs 
in this country! (Sometimes, oddly, he and Fastenko arrived at 
the same conclusions, approaching them from such different be¬ 
ginnings.) I said there had been a long period in which the 
people in charge of everything important in our country had been 
people of unimpeachably lofty intentions, and totally dedicated. 
He said that from the very beginning they were all cut from the 
same cloth as Stalin. (We agreed that Stalin was a gangster.) 
I praised Gorky to the skies. What a smart man he had been! 
How correct his point of view! What a great artist he was! And 
Yuri parried. He was an insignificant, terribly boring personality! 
He invented himself; he invented his heroes; and his books were 
fabrications from beginning to end. Lev Tolstoi—he was the king 
of our literature. 

As a result of these daily arguments, vehement because of our 
youth, he and I were never able to become really close or to 
discerp and accept in each other more than we rejected. 

They took him out of our cell; and since then, no matter how 
often I have inquired, I have found no one who was imprisoned 
with him in the Butyrki, and no one who encountered him in a 
transit prison. Even the rank-and-file Vlasov men have all dis¬ 
appeared without a trace, under the earth, most likely, and even 
now some of them do not have the documents they need in order 
to leave the northern wastes. But even among them, the fate of 
Yuri Y. was not a rank-and-file fate. 


At long last our Lubyanka lunch arrived. Long before it got 
to us we could hear the cheery clatter in the corridor, and then, 
as in a restaurant, they brought in a tray with two aluminum 
plates—not bowls—for each prisoner. One plate held a ladleful 
of soup and the other a ladleful of the thinnest kind of thin gruel, 
with no fat in it. 

In his first excitement, a prisoner couldn’t get anything down 
his throat. There were those who didn’t touch their bread for 
several days, who didn’t know where to put it. But gradually 
one’s appetite returned; and then a chronically famished state 
ensued that became almost uncontrollable. Then, if one managed 
to get it under control, one’s stomach shrank and adapted itself 
to inadequate food, at which point the meager Lubyanka fare 
became just right. One needed to have self-control to achieve 
this, and also needed to stop looking around to see who might 
be eating something extra. All those extremely dangerous prison 
conversations about food had to be outlawed, and one had to 
try to lift oneself, as far as possible, into higher spheres. At the 
Lubyanka this was made easier by our being permitted two hours 
of rest after lunch—something else that was astonishingly resort¬ 
like. We lay down, our backs to the peephole, set up open books 
for appearance’ sake, and dozed off. Sleep was forbidden, strictly 
spealring, and the guards could see that the pages of the books 
hadn’t been turned for a long time. But ordinarily they did not 
knock during this period. (The explanation for this humanitarian- 
ism was that whoever wasn’t resting during these hours was under¬ 
going interrogation. Thus, for those who were stubborn, who 
had not sign^ the depositions, the contrast was unmistakable: 
they returned to the cell at the very end of the rest period.) 

And sleep was the very best thing for hunger and anguish. 
One’s organism cooled off, and the brain stopped recapitulating 
one’s mistakes over and over again. 

Then they brought in dinner—another ladle of gruel. Life was 
setting all its gifts before you. After that, you were not going to 
get anything to eat in the five or six hours before bedtime, but 
that was not so terrible; it was easy to get used to not eating in 

First Cell, First Love \ 225 

the evenings. That has long been known in mihtary medicine. 
And in reserve regiments they don’t have anything to eat in the 

Then came the time for the evening visit to the toilet, for which, 
in all likelihood, you had waited, all atremble, all day. How 
relieved, how eased, the whole world suddenly became! How the 
great questions all simplified themselves at the same instant— 
did you feel it? 

Oh, the weightless Lubyanka evenings! (Only weightless, in¬ 
cidentally, if you were not awaiting a night interrogation.) A 
weightless body, just sufficiently satisfied by soup so that the 
soul did not feel oppressed by it. What light, free thoughts! It 
was as if we had been lifted up to the heights of Sinai, and there 
the truth manifested itself to us from out the fire. Was it not of 
this that Pushkin dreamed: 

I want to live to think and suffer! 

And there we suffered, and we thought, and there was nothing 
else in our lives. How easy it turned out to be to attain that ideal. 

Some evenings I would get involved in arguments, withdraw¬ 
ing from a chess game with Susi or from a book. Again I would 
have the sharpest quarrels with Yuri, because the questions were 
all explosive ones—^for example, the question of the outcome of 
the war. The jailer, without any word or change of expression, 
would come in and pull down the dark-blue blackout blind on 
the window. And then, out there on the other side of the blind, 
evening Moscow would begin to send up salutes. And just as we 
could not see the salutes lighting up the heavens, we were unable 
to see the map of Europe. Yet we tried to picture it in all its 
details and to guess which cities had been taken. Yuri was espe¬ 
cially tormented by those salutes. Appealing to fate to correct his 
own mistakes, he assured us that the war was by no means fin¬ 
ished and that the Red Army and the Anglo-American forces 
would now go for each other’s throats: that the real war would 
really begin now. The others in the ceU took a greedy interest 
in this prediction. How would such a conflict end? Yuri claimed 
it would end with the easy destruction of the Red Army. (Would 
this result in our liberation or our execution?) I objected to this, 
and we got into heated arguments. It was his contention that our 


army was worn do^n, bled white, poorly supplied, and, most 
importantly, that it would not fight with its usual determination 
against the Allies. I, however, insisted, on the basis of the units 
I had been familiar with, that the army was not so much worn 
down as experienced, that it had now become both strong and 
mean, and that in such an event it would crush the Allies even 
more thoroughly than it had the Germans. “Never,” cried Yuri 
in a half-whisper. “And what about the Ardennes?” I answered 
in a half-whisper. Fastenko interrupted us, ridiculing us both, 
informing us that we did not understand the West and that no 
• one, now or ever, could compel the Allied armies to fight against 

However,- in the evening we didn’t want to argue so much as 
to hear something interesting that might bring us closer together, 
and to talk in a spirit of fellowship. 

One favorite subject of conversation was prison traditions, 
how it used to be in prison. We had Fastenko and were therefore 
able to hear these stories at first hand. What dismayed us most of 
all was to learn that it had previously been an honor to be a 
political prisoner, and that it was not only their relatives who 
stuck by them and refused to renounce them, but that girls who 
had never even met them came to visit them, pretending for that 
purpose to be their fiancees. And what about the once universal 
tradition of gifts for the prisoners on holidays? No one in Russia 
ever broke the Lenten fast without first taking gifts for unknown 
prisoners to the common prison kitchen. They brought in Christ¬ 
mas hams, tarts, and kulichi—^the special Russian Easter cakes. 
One poor old lady even used to bring a dozen colored Easter 
eggs; it made her feel better. And where had all that Russian 
generosity gone? It had been replaced by political consciousness. 
That was how cruelly and implacably they had terrified our 
people and cured them of taking thought for and caring for 
those who were suffering. Today it would seem silly to do such 
a thing. If it was proposed today that some institution organize 
a preholiday collection of gifts for prisoners in the local prison, 
it would be virtually considered an anti-Soviet revolt! That’s how 
far we have gone adong the road to being brutalized! 

And what about those holiday gifts? Were they only a matter 
of tasty food? More importantly, those gifts gave the prisoners 

First Cell, First Love \ 221 

the warm feeling that people in freedom were thinking about 
them and were concerned for them. 

Fastenko told us that even in the Soviet period a Political Red 
Cross had existed. We found this difficult to imagine. It wasn’t 
that we thought he was telling us an untruth. Somehow we just 
couldn’t picture such a thing. He told us that Y. P. Peshkova, 
taking advantage of her personal immunity, had traveled abroad, 
collected money there (you’d not collect much here), and then 
seen to it that foodstuffs were bought in Russia for political pris¬ 
oners who had no relatives. For all political prisoners? And he 
explained at this point that the KR’s—^the so-called “Counter- 
Revolutionaries”—engineers and priests, for example, weren’t 
included, but only members of former political parties. Well, 
why didn’t you say so right away? Yes, and then for the most part 
the Political Red Cross, except Peshkova, was itself liquidated 
and its staff imprisoned. 

It was also very pleasant, on those evenings when one wasn’t 
expecting interrogation, to talk about getting out of prison. Yes, 
they said there had been astonishing instances when they did 

release someone. One day they took Z- v from our cell, “with 

his things”—perhaps to free him? But his interrogation could 
not have been completed so swiftly. Ten days later he returned. 
They had dragged him off to Lefortovo. When he got there, he 
had evidently begun to sign things very quickly. So they brought 
him back to us. “Now if they should just release you,” we would 
say to a fellow prisoner, “since your case, after all, isn’t very 
serious, as you yourself say, then you must promise to go see my 
wife and, to show you’ve done it, tell her, let’s say, to put two 
apples in my next parcel. . . . But there aren’t any apples 
anywhere right now, so tell her to put in three bagels. But then 
there mightn’t be any bagels in Moscow either. So all right, it 
will just have to be four potatoes!” (That’s how the discussion 
went, and then they actually did take N. off, “with his thin gs,” 
and M. got four potatoes in his next parcel. Truly astonishing! 
It was more than a coincidence! So they had really let him go! 
And his case was much more serious than mine. So maybe soon 
. . . However, what really happened was that M.’s wife brought 
five potatoes, but one of them got crushed in her bag, and N. was 
in the hold of a ship en route to the Kolyma.) 


And so it went. We talked about all kinds of things and recalled 
something amusing, and it was aU very jolly and delightful to be 
among interesting people who were so different from those you 
used to spend your life with, and who came from outside your 
own circle of experience. Meanwhile the silent evening check-up 
had come and gone, and they had taken eyeglasses away and the 
light bulb had blinked three times. That meant that bedtime would 
be in five minutes. 

Quick! Quick! Grab a blanket! Just as you never knew at the 
front when a hail of shells would begin to fall all around you, 
here you didn’t know which would be your fateful interrogation 
night. And we would lie down with one arm on top of the blanket 
and try to expel the whirlwind of thought from our heads. Go 
to sleep! 

And at a certain moment on an April evening, soon after we 
had seen Yuri off, the lock rattled. Hearts tightened. For whom 
had they come? Now the jailer would whisper: “Name with ‘S’? 
Name with ‘Z’?” But the guard did not whisper anything. The 
door closed. We raised our heads. There was a newcomer at the 
door: on the thin side, young, in a cheap blue suit and a dark-blue 
cap. He had nothing with him. He looked around in a state of 

“What’s the cell number?” he asked in alarm. 


He shuddered a bit. 

“Are you from freedom?” we asked. 

“No!” He shook his head in a painful sort of way. 

“When were you arrested?” 

“Yesterday morning.” 

We roared. He had a very gentle, innocent sort of face, and 
his eyebrows were nearly white. 

“What for?” 

(It was an unfair question. One could not really expect an 

“Oh, I don’t know. ... Nothing much.” 

That was how they aU replied. Everyone here was imprisoned 
because of nothing much. And to the newly arrested prisoner his 
own case always seemed especially nothing much. 

“But anyway, what was it?” 

First Cell, First Love \ 229 

“Well, you see, I wrote a proclamation. To the Russian peo¬ 


(None of us had ever run into that sort of “nothing much.”) 

“Are they going to shoot me?” His face grew longer. He kept 
pulling at the visor of the cap he had still not taken off. 

“Well, no, probably not,” we reassured him. “They don’t shoot 
anyone nowadays. They give out tenners —every time the clock 

“Are you a worker? Or a white-coUar employee?” asked the 
Social Democrat, true to his class principles. 

“A worker.” 

Fastenko reached out a hand to him and triumphantly pro¬ 
claimed to me: “You see, Aleksandr Isayevich, that’s the mood 
of the working class!” 

He turned away to go to sleep, assuming that there was no¬ 
where else to go from there and nothing else to listen to. 

But he was wrong. 

“What do you mean, a proclamation? Just like that? Without 
any reason? In whose name was it issued?” 

“In my own.” 

“And who are you?” 

The newcomer smiled with embarrassment: “The Emperor, 

An electric shock ran through us aU. Once again we raised 
ourselves on om cots and looked at him. No, his shy, thin face 
was not in the least like the face of Mikhail Romanov. And then 
his age too ... 

“Tomorrow, tomorrow. Time to sleep now,” said Susi sternly. 

We went to sleep, confident that the two hours before the morn¬ 
ing bread ration were not going to be boring. 

They brought in a cot and bedding for the Emperor, and he 
lay down quietly next to the latrine bucket. 

In 1916 a portly stranger, an elderly man with a light-brown 
beard, entered the home of the Moscow locomotive engineer 
Belov and said to the engineer’s pious wife: “Pelageya! You have 


a year-old son. Take good care of him for the Lord. The hour will 
come—and I will come to you again.” Then he left. 

Pelageya did not have the faintest idea who this man was. But 
he had spoken so clearly and authoritatively that her mother’s 
heart accepted his word as law. And she cared for her child like 
the apple of her eye. Viktor grew up to be quiet, obedient, and 
pious; and he often saw visions of the angels and the Holy Virgin. 
But, as he grew up, these visions became less frequent. The elderly 
man did not come again. Viktor learned to be a chauffeur, and 
in 1936 he was taken into the army and sent off to Birobidzhan, 
where he was stationed in an auto transport company. He was not 
at all overly familiar or cheeky, and perhaps it was his quiet 
demeanor and modesty, so untypical of a chauffeur, which at¬ 
tracted a civilian girl employee. But the commander of his platoon 
was after the same girl and found himself out in the cold because 
of Viktor. At this time. Marshal Bliicher came to their area for 
maneuvers and his personal chauffeur fell seriously ill. Bliicher 
ordered the commander of the motor company to send him the 
best driver in the company; the company commander summoned 
the platoon commander, who immediately latched onto the idea 
of dumping his rival, Belov. (That’s the way it often is in the 
army. TTie person who deserves promotion doesn’t get it, and 
the person they want to get rid of does.) In addition, Belov was 
sober, a hard worker, and reliable—he wouldn’t let them 

Bliicher liked Belov. So Belov stayed with him. Soon Bliicher 
was summoned to Moscow on a plausible pretext. This was how 
they separated the marshal from his power base in the Far East 
before arresting him. He had brought his own chauffeur, Belov, 
to Moscow with him. Having lost his boss, Belov then landed in 
the KremUn garage and began chauffeuring, sometimes for Mi¬ 
khailov (of the Komsomol), sometimes for Lozovsky or some¬ 
body else in the leadership, and, finally, for Khrushchev. He had 
a close view of things—and he told us a lot, too, about the feasts, 
the morals, the security precautions. As a representative of the 
rank-and-file Moscow proletariat, he was also present at the trial 
of Bukharin in the House of the Unions. Of all those for whom 
he worked, he spoke well only of Khrushchev. Only in Khru¬ 
shchev’s home was the chauffeur seated at the family table instead 
of being put in the kitchen. Only there, in those years, did he 

First Cell, First Love 


find the simplicity of the workingman’s life preserved. Khru¬ 
shchev, who enjoyed life hugely, also became attached to Viktor 
Alekseyevich, and in 1938, when he left for the Ukraine, he tried 
to get him to go along. “I would have stayed with Khrushchev 
forever,” said Viktor Alekseyevich. But for some reason he felt 
he should remain in Moscow. 

For a while in 1941, before the beginning of the war, he was 
not employed in the government garage and, having no one to 
protect him, he was taken into military service. But because his 
health was poor, hp was not sent to the front but to a labor bat¬ 
talion. First they went on foot to Inza, to dig trenches and build 
roads there. After his secure knd prosperous life of the previous 
few years he found it painful to have his nose shoved in the dirt. 
He ^ank a full draft of grief and poverty there, and on every 
side he saw not only that people had not begun to live better 
before the war, but that they were deeply impoverished. Just 
barely surviving himself, and released from the service because 
of illness, he retiurned to Moscow and again managed to get him¬ 
self a job as chauffeur for Shcherbakov,^^ and after that for 
Sedin, People’s Commissar of Petroleum. But Sedin embezzled 
funds to the tune of 35 million and was quietly removed. And 
Belov was once again out of a job driving for the leaders. He 
became a chauffeur at an automobile depot, and in his spare time 
he used to moonlight with his car on the road to Krasnaya Pakhra. 

But his thoughts were already centered elsewhere. In 1943 
he had been visiting his mother. She was doing the laundry and 
had gone out to the hydrant with her pails. The door opened and 
a portly stranger, an old man with a white beard, entered the 
house. He crossed himself at the ikon there, looked sternly at 
Belov, and said to him: “Hail, Mikhail. God gives you his bless¬ 
ing!” Belov replied: “My name is Viktor.” “But,” the old man 
continued, “you are destined to become Mikhail, the Emperor 
of Holy Russia!” Just then Viktor’s mother returned and half- 
collapsed in fright, spiffing her pails. It was the very same old 
man who had come to her twenty-seven years before. He had 
turned white in the meantime, but it was he. “God bless you, 

22. He used to describe how the obese Shcherbakov hated to see people 
around when he arrived at his Informburo, so they temporarily removed all 
those who were working in the offices he had to walk through. Grunting be¬ 
cause of his fat, he would lean down and pull back a corner of the carpet. And 
the whole Informburo caught it if he found any dust there. 


Pelageya, you have preserved your son,” said the old man. And 
he took the future Emperor aside, like a patriarch preparing to 
enthrone him, and announced to the astonished young man that 
in 1953 there would be a change in rule and that he would be¬ 
come Emperor of All Russia.*® (That is why the number of our 
cell, 53, shocked him so.) To this end, the old man told him, 
he was to begin to gather his forces in 1948. The old man didn’t 
instruct him as to how to gather his forces. He departed, and 
Viktor Alekseyevich didn’t get around to asking. 

All the peace and simplicity of his life were lost to him now. 
Perhaps some other individual would have recoiled from the 
ambitious program, but Viktor, as it happened, had rubbed 
shoulders with the highest of the high. He had seen all those 
Mikhailovs, Shcherbakovs, Sedins, and he had heard a lot from 
other chauffeurs, too, and he had gotten it clear in his own mind 
that nothing in the least unusual was required—in fact, just the 

The newly anointed Tsar, quiet, conscientious, sensitive, like 
Fyodor Ivanovich, the last of die line of Ryurik, felt on his brow 
the heavy pressure of the crown of Monomakh. All around him 
were the people’s poverty and grief, for which he had not until 
now borne any responsibility. Now all this lay upon his shoulders, 
and he was to blame for the fact that this misery still existed. It 
seemed strange to him to wait until 1948, and, therefore, in that 
very autumn of 1943, he wrote his first proclamation to the 
Russian people and read it to four of his fellow workers in the 
garage of the People’s Commissariat of Petroleum. 

We had surrounded Viktor Alekseyevich from early morning, 
and he had meekly told us all this. We had still not fathomed his 
childish trustfulness—we were absorbed in his unusual story and 
—it was our fault—we forgot to warn him about the stoolie. In 
fact, we never even thought for one minute that there was any¬ 
thing in the naive and simple story he had told us that the inter¬ 
rogator didn’t already know. 

The instant the story ended, Kramarenko began demanding 
to be taken either to the “chief of the prison for tobacco” or else 
to the doctor. At any rate, they summoned him quickly. And as 
soon as he got there he put the finger on those four workers in 

23. The prophetic old man made only one mistake. He confused the 
chauffeur with his former employer. 

First Cell, First Love \ 233 

the garage of the People’s Commissariat of Petroleum—^whose 
existence no one would ever have suspected. (The next day, re¬ 
turning from his interrogation, Belov was astonished that the 
interrogator knew about them. And that’s when it hit us.) Those 
workers had heard the proclamation and approved it all, and 
no one had turned in the Emperor! But he himself felt that it 
was too early, and he burned it. 

A year passed. Viktor Alekseyevich was working as a mechanic 
in the garage of an automobile depot. In the fall of 1944, he 
again wrote a proclamation and gave it to ten people to read— 
chauffeurs and lathe operators. All of them approved it. And no 
one turned him in. (It was a surprising thing, indeed, that not one 
person in that group of ten had turned him in, in that period 
of ubiquitous stool pigeons! Fastenko had not been mistaken in 
his deductions about the “mood of the working class.”) True, 
in this case the Emperor had used some innocent tricks. He had 
thrown out hints that a strong arm inside the government was on 
his side. And he had promised his supporters travel assignments 
to rally monarchic sentiment at the grass roots. 

Months went by. The Emperor entrusted his secret to two 
girls at the garage. But this time there was no misfire. These 
girls turned out to be ideologically sound! And Viktor Alekseye¬ 
vich’s heart sank: he had a premonition of disaster. On the 
Sunday after the Annunciation he went to the market, carrying 
the proclamation with him. One of his sympathizers among the 
old workers saw him there and said: “Viktor, you ought to burn 
that piece of paper for the time being; how about it?” And Viktor 
felt clearly that he had written it too soon, and that he should 
burn it. “I’ll bum it right now! You’re right.” And he started 
home to burn it. But right there in the market two pleasant young 
men called out to him: “Viktor Alekseyevich! Come along with 
us!” And they took him to the Lubyanka in a private car. When 
they got him there, they had been in such a hurry and were so 
excited that they didn’t search him in the usual way, and there 
was a moment when the Emperor almost destroyed his proclama¬ 
tion in the toilet. But he decided that it would be the worse for 
him, that they would keep after him anyway to find out where it 
was. And they straightaway took him in an elevator up to a 
general and a colonel, and the general with his own hands 
grabbed the proclamation from Viktor’s pocket. 


However, it took only one interrogation for the Big Lubyanka 
to quiet down again. It turned out to be not so d^gerous. Ten 
arrests in the garage of the auto depot and four in the garage of 
the People’s Conunissariat of Petroleum. The interrogation was 
turned over to a lieutenant colonel, who had a good laugh as he 
went through the proclamation: 

“You write here. Your Majesty: ‘In the first spring I will 
instruct my Minister of Agriculture to dissolve the collective 
farms.’ But how are you going to divide up the tools and live¬ 
stock? You haven’t got it worked out yet. And then you also 
write: ‘I am going to increase housing construction and house 
each person next to the place he works, and I am going to raise 
all the workers’ wages.’ And where are you going to find the 
money. Your Majesty? Are you going to have to run the money 
off on printing presses? You are going to abolish the state loans. 
And then, too: ‘I am going to wipe the Kremlin from the face 
of the earth.’ But where are you going to put your own govern¬ 
ment? What about the building of the Big Lubyanka? Would you 
like to take a tour of inspection and look it over?” 

Many of the younger interrogators also stopped by to make 
fun of the Emperor of All Russia. They saw nothing except 
comedy in all tifis. 

And it was not always easy for us in the cell to keep a straight 
face. “We hope you aren’t going to forget us here in Cell 
No. 53,” said Z-^v, winking at the rest of us. 

Everyone laughed at him. 

Viktor Alekseyevich, with his white eyebrows and innocent 
simplicity and his callused hands, would treat us when he received 
boiled potatoes from- his unforhmate mother, Pelageya, without 
ever dividing them into “yours” and mine”: “Come on, com¬ 
rades, eat up, eat up!” 

He used to smile shyly. He understood perfectly well how 
uncontemporary and funny all this was—to be the Emperor of 
All Russia. But what coiild he do if God’s choice had fallen 
on him? 

They soon removed him from our cell.^^ 

24. When they introduced me to Khrushchev in 1962, I wanted to say to 
him: “Nikita Sergeyevich! You and I have an acquaintance in conunon.” Biit 
I told him something else, more urgent, on behalf of former prisoners. 

First Cell, First Love \ 235 

Just before May 1 they took down the blackout shade on the 
window. The war was perceptibly coming to an end. 

That evening it was quieter than ever before in the Lubyanka. 
It was, I remember, almost like the second day of Easter, since 
May Day and Easter came one after the other that year. All the 
interrogators were out in Moscow celebrating. No one was taken 
to interrogation. In the silence we could hear someone across 
the corridor protesting. They took him from the cell and into a 
box. By listening, we could detect the location of all the doors. 
They left the door of the box open, and they kept beating him a 
long time. In the suspended silence every blow on his soft and 
choking mouth could be heard clearly. 

On May 2 a thirty-gun salute roared out. That meant a Euro¬ 
pean capital. Only two had not yet been captured—Prague and 
Berlin. We tried to guess which it was. 

On the ninth of May they brought us our dinner at the same 
time as our lunch—which was done at the Lubyanka only on 
May 1 and November 7. 

And that is how we guessed that the war had ended. 

That evening they shot off another thirty-gun salute. We then 
knew that there were no more capitals to be captured. And later 
that same evening one more salute roared out—forty guns, I 
seem to remember. And that was the end of all the ends. 

Above the muzzle of our window, and from all the other cells 
of the Lubyanka, and from all the windows of all the Moscow 
prisons, we, too, former prisoners of war and former front-line 
soldiers, watched the Moscow heavens, patterned with fireworks 
and crisscrossed by the beams of searchlights. 

Boris Gammerov, a young antitank man, already demobilized 
because of wounds, with an incurable wound in his lung, having 
been arrested with a group of students, was in prison that eve¬ 
ning in an overcrowded Butyrki cell, where half the inmates were 
former POW’s and front-line soldiers. He described this last salute 
of the war in a terse eight-stanza poem, in the most ordinary lan¬ 
guage: how they were already lying down on their board bunks, 
covered with their overcoats; how they were awakened by the 


noise; how they raised their heads; squinted up at the muzzle— 
“Oh, it’s just a salute”—and then lay down again: 

And once again covered themselves with their coats. 

With those same overcoats which had been in the clay of the 
trenches, and the ashes of bonfires, and been torn to tatters by 
German shell fragments. 

That victory was not for us. And that spring was not for us 

Chapter 6 

That Spring 

Through the windows of the Butyrki Prison every morning and 
evening in June, 1945, we could hear the brassy notes of bands 
not far away—coming from either Lesnaya Street or Novoslo- 
bodskaya. They kept playing marches over and over. 

Behind the murky green “muzzles” of reinforced glass, we stood 
at the wide-open but impenetrable prison windows and listened. 
Were they military units that were marching? Or were they work¬ 
ers cheerfully devoting their free time to marching practice? We 
didn’t know, but the rumor had already gotten through to us that 
preparations were under way for a big Victory Parade on Red 
Square on June 22—the fourth anniversary of the begiiming 
of the war. 

The foundation stones of a great building are destined to groan 
and be pressed upon; it is not for them to crown the edifice. But 
even the honor of being part of the foundation was denied those 
whose doomed heads and ribs had borne the first blows of this 
war and thwarted the foreigners’ victory, and who were now 
abandoned for no good reason. 

“Joyful sounds mean nought to the traitor.” 

That spring of 1945 was, in our prisons, predominantly the 
spring of the Russian prisoners of war. They passed through 
the prisons of the Soviet Union in vast dense gray shoals like 
ocean herring. The first trace of those schools I glimpsed was 
Yuri Y. But I was soon entirely surrounded by their purposeful 
motion, which seemed to know its own fated design. 



Not only war prisoners passed through those cells. A wave of 
those who had spent any time in Europe was rolling too: 
emigre from the Civil War; the. “ostovtsy”—^workers recruited 
as laborers by the Germans during World War II; Red Army 
officers who had been too astute and farsighted in their con¬ 
clusions, so that Stalin feared they might bring European free¬ 
dom back from their European crusade, like the Decembrists 
120 years before. And yet it was the war prisoners who consti¬ 
tuted the bulk of the wave. And among the war prisoners of 
various ages, most were of my own age—not precisely my age, 
but the twins of October, those bom along with the Revolution, 
who in 1937 had poured forth undismayed to celebrate the 
twentieth anniversary of the Revolution, and whose age group, at 
the beginning of the war, made up the standing army—^which 
had been scattered in a matter of weeks. 

That tedious prison spring had, to the tune of the victory 
marches, become the spring of reckoning for my whole genera¬ 

Over our cradles the rallying cry had resounded: “All power 
to the Soviets!” It was we who had reached out bur suntanned 
childish hands to clutch the Pioneers’ bugle, and who in response 
to the Pioneer challenge, “Be prepared,” had saluted and an¬ 
swered: “We are always prepared!” It was we who had smuggled 
weapons into Buchenwald and joined the Communist Party there. 
And it was we who were now in disgrace, only because we had 

Back when the Red Army had cut through East Prussia, I 
had seen downcast columns of returning war prisoners—the only 
people around who were grieving instead of celebrating. Even 
then their gloom had shocked me, though I didn’t yet grasp the 
reason for it. I jumped down and went over to those voluntarily 
formed-up columns. (Why were they marching in columns? Why 
had they lined themselves up in ranks? After all, no one had 
compelled them to, and the war prisoners of all other nations 
went home as scattered individuals. But ours wanted to return as 
submissively as possible.) I was wearing a captain’s shoulder 

1. Those prisoners who had been in Buchenwald and survived were, in fact, 
imprisoned for that very reason in our own camps: How could you have sur¬ 
vived an annihilation camp? Something doesn’t smell right! 

That Spring \ 239 

boards, and they, plus the fact that I was moving forward, helped 
prevent my finding out why our POW’s were so sad. But then 
fate turned me around and sent me in the wake of those prisoners 
along the same path they had taken. I had already marched with 
them from army counterintelligence headquarters to the head¬ 
quarters at the front, and when we got there I had heard their 
first stories, which I didn’t yet understand; and then Yuri Y. 
told me the whole thing. And here beneath the domes of the 
brick-red Butyrki castle, I felt that the story of these several mil¬ 
lion Russian prisoners had got me in its grip once and for all, like 
a pin through a specimen beetle. My own story of landing in 
prison seemed insignificant. I stopped regretting my tom-off 
shoulder boards. It was mere chance that had kept me from end¬ 
ing up exactly where these contemporaries of mine had ended. 
I came to understand that it was my duty to take upon my 
shoulders a share of their common burden—^and to bear it to the 
last man, until it crushed us. I now felt as if I, too, had fallen 
prisoner at the Solovyev crossing, in the Kharkov encirclement, 
in the quarries of Kerch, and, hands behind my back, had carried 
my Soviet pride behind the barbed wire of the concentration 
camps; that I, too, had stood for hours in the freezing cold for 
a ladle of cold Kawa (an ersatz coffee) and had been left on the 
ground for dead, without even reaching the kettle; that in Oflag 68 
(Suwalki) I had used my hands and the lid of a mess tin to dig 
a bell-shaped (upturned, that is) foxhole, so as not to have to 
spend the winter on the open field; and that a maddened prisoner 
had crawled up to me as I lay dying to gnaw on the still warm 
fiesh beneath my arm; and with every new day of exacerbated, 
famished consciousness, lying in a barracks riddled with typhus, 
or at the barbed wire of the neighboring camp for English 
POW’s, the clear thought had penetrated my dying brain; Soviet 
Russia has renounced her dying children. She had needed them, 
“proud sons of Russia,” as long as they let the tanks roll over 
them and it was still possible to rouse them to attack. But to feed 
them once they were war prisoners? Extra mouths. And extra 
witnesses to humiliating defeats. 

Sometimes we try to He but our tongue will not allow us to. 
These people were labeled traitors, but a remarkable sHp of the 
tongue occurred—on the part of the judges, prosecutors, and 



interrogators. And the convicted prisoners, the entire nation, and 
the newspapers repeated and reinforced this mistake, involuntarily 
letting the truth out of the bag. They intended to declare them 
“traitors to the Motherland.” But they were universally referred 
to, in speech and in writing, even in the court documents, as 
“traitors of the Motherland.” 

You said it! They were not traitors to her. They were her 
traitors. It was not they, the unfortunates, who had betrayed the 
Motherland, but their calculating Motherland who had betrayed 
them, and not just once but thrice. 

The first time she betrayed them was on the battlefield, through 
ineptitude—when the government, so beloved by the Mother¬ 
land, did everything it could to lose the war: destroyed the lines 
of fortifications; set up the whole air force for annihilation; dis¬ 
mantled the tanks and artillery; removed the effective generals; 
and forbade the armies to resist.^ And the war prisoners were the 
men whose bodies took the blow and stopped the Wehrmacht. 

The second time they were heartlessly betrayed by the Mother¬ 
land was when she abandoned them to die in captivity. 

And the third time they were unscrupulously betrayed was 
when, with motherly love, she coaxed them to return home, with 
such phrases as “The Motherland has forgiven you! The Mother¬ 
land calls you!” and snared them the moment they reached the 

It would appear that during the one thousand one hundred 
years of Russia’s existence as a state there have been, ah, how 
many foul and terrible deeds! But among them was there ever so 
multimillioned foul a deed as this: to betray one’s own soldiers 
and proclaim them traitors? 

How easily we left them out of our own accounting! He was 
a traitor? For shame! Write him off! And our Father wrote them 
off, even before we did: he threw the flower of Moscow’s in¬ 
telligentsia into the Vyazma meat grinder with Berdan single- 

2. Now, after twenty-seven years, the first honest work on this subject has 
appeared—P. G. Grigorenko, “A Letter to the Magazine Problems of the His¬ 
tory of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union” samizdat, 1968—and such 
works are going to multiply from here on out. Not all the witnesses died. And 
soon no one will call Stalin’s government anything but a government of insanity 
and treason. 

3. One of the biggest war criminals, Colonel General Golikov, former chief 
of the Red Army’s intelligence administration, was put in charge of coaxing the 
repatriates home and swallowing them up. 

That Spring \ 241 

loading rifles, vintage 1866, and only one for every five men at 
that. What Lev Tolstoi is going to describe that Borodino for us? 
And with one stupid slither of his greasy, stubby finger, the Great 
Strategist sent 120,000 of our young men, almost as many as all 
the Russian forces at Borodino, across the Strait of Kerch in 
December, 1941—senselessly, and exclusively for the sake of a 
sensational New Year’s communique—and he turned them all 
over to the Germans without a fight. 

And yet, for some reason, it was not he who was the traitor, 
but they. 

(How easily we let ourselves be taken in by partisan labels; how 
easily we agreed to regard these devoted men as—traitors! In 
one of the Butyrki cells that spring, there was an old man, 
Lebedev, a metallurgist, a professor in rank, and in appearance a 
stalwart artisan of the last century or maybe even the century 
before, from, say, the famous Demidov iron foundries. He was 
broad of shoulder, broad of head, wore a Pugachev-like beard, 
and the wide span of his hand could lift a 150-pound bucket. 
In the cell he wore a faded gray laborer’s smock over his under¬ 
wear; he was slovenly and might have been an auxiliary prison 
worker—until he sat down to read, and then his habitual powerful 
intelligence lit up his face. The men often gathered around him. 
He discussed metallurgy very little, but explained to us in his 
kettledrum bass voice that Stalin was exactly the same kind of 
dog as Ivan the Terrible: “Shoot!” “Strangle!” “Don’t hesitate!” 
He explained to us also that Maxim Gorky had been a slobbering 
prattler, an apologist for executioners. I was very much taken 
with this Lebedev. It was as though the whole Russian people 
were embodied, there before my eyes, in that one thick-set torso 
with that intelligent head and the arms and legs of a plowman. 
He had already thought through so much! I learned from him 
to understand the world! And suddenly, with a chopping gesture 
of his huge hand, he thundered out that those charged under 
Article 58-lb were traitors of the Motherland and must not be 
forgiven. And those very same lb’s were piled up on the board 
bunks all around. And how hurtful to them this was! The old 
man was pontificating with such conviction in the name of Rus¬ 
sia’s peasantry and labor that they were abashed and found it hard 
to defend themselves against the attack from this new direction. 
I was the one to whom it fell, along with two boys charged under 


58-10, to defend them and to argue with the old man. But what 
depths of enforced ignorance were achieved by the monstrous 
lies of the state. Even the most broad-minded of us can embrace 
only that part of the truth, into which our own snout has blun¬ 

How many wars Russia has been involved in! (It would have 
been better if there had been fewer.) And were there many 
traitors in all those wars? Had anyone observed that treason had 
become deeply rooted in the hearts of Russian soldiers? Then, 
under the most just social system in the world, came the inost just 
war of all—and out of nowhere millions of traitors appeared, 
from among the simplest, lowliest elements of the population. 
How is this to be understood and explained? 

Capitalist England fought at our side against Hitler; Marx 
had eloquently described the poverty and suffering of the work¬ 
ing class in that same England. Why was it that in this war only 
one traitor could be found among them, the businessman “Lord 
Haw Haw”—^but in our country millions? 

It is frightening to open one’s trap about this, but might the 
heart of the matter not be in the political system? 

One of our most ancient proverbs justifies the war prisoner; 
“The captive will cry out, but the dead man never.” During the 
reign of Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich, nobility was granted for 
durance in captivity! And in all subsequent wars it was considered 
society’s duty to exchange prisoners, to comfort one’s own and 
to give them sustenance and aid. Every escape from captivity was 
glorified as the height of heroism. Throughout World War I, 
money was collected in Russia to aid our prisoners of war, and 
our nurses were permitted to go to Germany to help our prisoners, 
and our newspapers reminded their readers daily that our pris¬ 
oners of war, our compatriots, were languishing in evil captivity. 

4. Vitkovsky writes about this, on the basis of the thirties, in more general 
terms. It was astonishing that the pseudo wreckers, who knew perfectly well 
that they weren’t wreckers, believed that military men and priests were being 
shaken up justifiably. The military men, who knew they hadn’t worked for 
foreign intelligence services and had not sabotaged the Red Army, believed 
readily enough that the engineers were wreckers and that the priests deserved 
to be destroyed. Imprisoned, the Soviet person reasoned in the following way: 
I personally am innocent, but any methods are justified in dealing with those 
others, the enemies. The lessons of interrogation and the cell failed to enlighten 
such people. Even after they themselves had been convicted, they retained 
the blind beliefs of their days in freedom: belief in universal conspiracies, poi¬ 
sonings, wrecking, espionage. 

That Spring | 243 

All the Western peoples behaved the same in our war: parcels, 
letters, all kinds of assistance flowed freely through the neutral 
countries. The Western POW’s did not have to lower themselves 
to accept ladlefuls from German soup kettles. They talked back 
to the German guards. Western governments gave their captured 
soldiers their seniority rights, their regular promotions, even 
their pay. 

The only soldier in the world who cannot surrender is the 
soldier of the world’s one and only Red Army. That’s what it says 
in our military statutes. (The Germans would shout at us from 
their trenches: “Ivan plen nicht!’’—“Ivan no prisoner!”) Who 
can picture all that means? There is war; there is death—^but 
there is no surrender! What a discovery! What it means is: Go 
and die; we will go on living. And if you lose your legs, yet man¬ 
age to return from captivity on crutches, we will convict you. 
(The Leningrader Ivanov, commander of a machine-gun platoon 
in the Finnish War, was subsequently thus imprisoned in Ustvym- 
lag, for example.) 

Our soldiers alone, renounced by their Motherland and de¬ 
graded to nothing in the eyes of enemies and allies, had to push 
their way to the swine swill being doled out in the backyards of 
the Third Reich. Our soldiers alone had the doors shut tight to 
keep them from returning to their homes, although their young 
souls tried hard not to believe this. There was something called 
Article 58-lb—and, in wartime, it provided only for execution 
by shooting! For not wanting to die from a German bullet, the 
prisoner had to die from a Soviet bullet for having been a prisoner 
of war! Some get theirs from the enemy; we get it from our own! 

Incidentally, it is very naive to say What for? At no time have 
governments been moralists. They never imprisoned people and 
executed them for having done something. They imprisoned and 
executed them to keep them from doing something. They im¬ 
prisoned all those POW’s, of course, not /or treason to the Mother¬ 
land, because it was absolutely clear even to a fool that only the 
Vlasov men could be accused of treason. They imprisoned all 
of them to keep them from telling their fellow villagers about 
Europe. What the eye doesn’t see, the heart doesn’t grieve for. 

What, then, were the courses of action open to Russian war 
prisoners? There was only one legally acceptable course: to lie 


down and let oneself be trampled to death. Every blade of grass 
pushes its fragile length upward in order to live. As for you— 
lie down and be trampled on. Even though you’ve been slow 
about it, even though you couldn’t do it on the battlefield, at least 
die now; then you will not be prosecuted. 

The soldiers sleep. They spoke their word 
And they are right for eternity. 

And every other path which, in desperation, your mind may 
invent is going to lead you into conflict with the Law. 

Escape and return to the Motherland—^past the guards ring¬ 
ing the camp, across half Germany, then through Poland or the 
Balkans—^led straight to SMERSH and prison. They were asked: 
How did you manage to escape when others couldn’t? This stinks! 
Come on, you rat, what assignment did they give you? (Mikhail 
Burnatsev, Pavel Bondarenko, and many, many others.)® 

Escaping to the Western partisans, to the Resistance forces, 

5. It has become the accepted thing for our literary critics to say that Shol¬ 
okhov, in his immortal story **Sudba Cheloveka!' —“The Fate of a Man”— 
spoke the “bitter truth” about “this side of our life” and that he “revealed” the 
problem. But we must retort that in this story, which is in general very inferior, 
and in which the passages about the war are pale and unconvincing—since the 
author evidently knew nothing about the last war—and the descriptions of 
Germans are unconvincing cartoon cliches (only the hero’s wife is successfully 
portrayed—because she is a pure Christian straight out of Dostoyevsky), in 
this story about a war prisoner, the real problem of the war prisoners was 
hidden or distorted: 

(1) The author picked the least incriminating form of being taken prisoner 
conceivable—the soldier was captured while unconscious, so as to make him 
noncontroversial and to bypass the whole poignancy of the problem. (What if 
he had been conscious when he was taken prisoner, as was most often the 
case? What would have happened to him then?) 

(2) The fact that the Motherland had deserted us, had renounced us, had 
cursed us, was not presented as the war prisoner’s chief problem. Sholokhov 
says not a word about it. But it was because of that particular factor that there 
was no way out. On the contrary, he identifies the presence of traitors among 
us as constituting the problem. (But if this really was the main thing, one 
might then expect him to have investigated further and explained where they 
came from a full quarter-century after a Revolution that was supported by 
the entire people!) 

(3) Sholokhov dreamed up a fantastic, spy-story escape from captivity, 
stretching innumerable points to avoid the obligatory, inevitable procedural step 
of the returned war prisoner’s reception in SMERSH—the Identification and 
Screening Camp. Not only was Sokolov, the hero, not put behind barbed wire, 
as provided in the regulations, but—and this is a real joke—he was given a 
month’s holiday by his colonel! (In other words: the freedom to carry out 
the assignment given him by the Fascist intelligence service. So his colonel 
would end up in the same place as he!) 

That Spring \ 245 

only postponed your full reckoning with the military tribunal; 
also, it made you still more dangerous. You could have acquired 
a very harmful spirit through living freely among Europeans. And 
if you had not been afraid to escape and continue to fight, it 
meant you were a determined person and thus doubly dangerous 
in the Motherland. 

Did you survive POW camp at the expense of your com¬ 
patriots and comrades? Did you become a member of the camp 
Polizei, or a commandant, a helper of the Germans and of death? 
Stalinist law did not punish you any more severely than if you 
had operated with the Resistance forces. It was the same article 
of the Code and the same term—and one could guess why too. 
Such a person was less dangerous. But the inert law that is in¬ 
explicably implanted in us forbade this path to all except the 

In addition to those four possibilities—either impossible or un¬ 
acceptable—there was a fifth: to wait for German recruiters, to 
see what they would summon you to. 

Sometimes, fortunately, representatives came from German 
rural districts to select hired men for their farmers. Sometimes 
they came from corporations and picked out engineers and 
mechanics. According to the supreme Stalinist imperative you 
should have rejected that too. You should have concealed the fact 
that you were an engineer. You should have concealed the fact 
that you were a skilled worker. As an industrial designer or 
electrician, you could have preserved your patriotic purity only 
if you had stayed in the POW camp to dig in the earth, to rot, to 
pick through the garbage heap. In that case, for pure treason to 
the Motherland, you could count on getting, your head raised 
high in pride, ten years in prison and five more “muzzled.” 
Whereas for treason to the Motherland aggravated by working for 
the enemy, especially in one’s own profession, you got, with 
bowed head, the same ten years in prison and five more muzzled. 

And that was the jeweler’s precision of a behemoth—Stalin’s 

Now and then recruiters turned up who were of quite a dif¬ 
ferent stripe—Russians, usually recent Communist political com¬ 
missars. White Guards didn’t accept that type of employment. 
These recruiters scheduled a meeting in the camp, condemned the 


Soviet regime, and appealed to prisoners to enlist in spy schools 
or in Vlasov units. 

People who have never starved as our war prisoners did, who 
have never gnawed on bats that happened to fly into the barracks, 
who have never had to boil the soles of old shoes, wiU never 
understand the irresistible material force exerted by any kind 
of appeal, any kind of argument whatever, if behind it, on the 
other side of the camp gates, smoke rises from a field kitchen, and 
if everyone who signs up is fed a bellyful of kasha right then and 
there—if only once! Just once more before I die! 

And hovering over the steaming kasha and the inducements of 
the recruiter was the apparition of freedom and a real life— 
wherever it might call! To the Vlasov battalions. To the Cossack 
regiments of Krasnov. To the labor battalions—^pouring cement 
in the future Atlantic Wall. To the fjords of Norway. To the 
sands of Libya. To the “Hiwi” units (“Hilfswillige”—^volunteers 
in the German Wehrmacht—^there being twelve “Hiwi” men in 
each German company). And then, finally, to the village Polizei, 
who pursued and caught partisans—^many of whom the Mother¬ 
land would also renounce. Wherever it might call, any place at 
all, at least anything so as not to stay there and die like abandoned 

We ourselves released from every obligation, not merely to his 
Motherland but to all humanity, the human being whom we 
drove to gnawing on bats. 

And those of our boys who agreed to become half-baked spies 
still had not drawn any drastic conclusions from their abandoned 
state; they were still, in fact, acting very patriotically. They saw 
this course as the least difficult means of getting out of POW 
camp. Almost to a man, they decided that as soon as the Germans 
sent them across to the Soviet side, they would turn themselves 
in to the authorities, turn in their equipment and instructions, 
and join their own benign command in laughing at the stupid 
Germans. They would then put on their Red Army uniforms and 
return to fight bravely in their units. And tell me, who, speaking 
in human terms, could have expected anything else? How could it 
have been any other way? These were straightforward, sincere 
men. I saw many of them. They had honest round faces and spoke 
with an attractive Vyatka or Vladimir accent. They boldly joined 

Tkat Spring \ 247 

up as spies, even though they’d had only four or five grades of 
rural school and were not even competent to cope with map and 

It aj^ears that they picked, the only way out they could. And 
one would suppose that the whole thing was an expensive and 
stupid game on the part of the German Command. But no! Hitler 
played in rhythm and in tune with his brother dictator! Spy mania 
was one of Ae fundamental aspects of Stalin’s insanity. It seemed 
to Stalin that the country was swarming with spies. All the Chinese 
who lived in the Soviet Far East were convicted as spies—^Article 
58-6—and were taken to the northern camps, where they perished. 
The same fate had awaited Chinese participants in the Soviet 
civil war—^if they hadn’t cleared out in time. Several hundred 
thousand Koreans were exiled to Kazakhstan, all similarly ac¬ 
cused of spying. All Soviet citizens who at one time or another 
had lived abroad, who at one time or another had hung around 
Intourist hotels, who at one time or another happened to be 
photographed next to a foreigner, or who had themselves photo¬ 
graphed a city building (the Golden Gate in Vladimir) were 
accused of the same crime. Those who stared too long at railroad 
tracks, at a highway bridge, at a factory chimney were similarly 
charged. All the numerous foreign Communists stranded in the 
Soviet Union, all the big and little Comintern officials and em¬ 
ployees, one after another, without any individual distinctions, 
were charged first of all with espionage.® And the Latvian Rifle¬ 
men—^whose bayonets were the most reliable in the first years 
of the Revolution—^were also accused of espionage when they 
were arrested to a man in 1937. Stalin seems somehow to have 
twisted around and maximized the famous declaration of that 
coquette Catherine the Great: he would rather that 999 innocent 
men should rot than miss one genuine spy. Given all this, how 
could one believe and trust Russian soldiers who had really been 
in the hands of the German, intelligence service? And how it 
eased the burden for the MGB executioners when thousands of 
soldiers pouring in from Europe did not even try to conceal that 
they had voluntarily enlisted as spies. What an astonishing con- 

6. losip Tito just barely escaped this fate. And Popov and Tanev, fellow 
defendants of Dimitrov in the L^pzig trial, both got prison terms. (For Dimi¬ 
trov himself Stalin prepared' another fate.) 


firmation of the predictions of the Wisest of the Wise! Come on, 
keep coming, you silly fools! The article and the retribution have 
long since been waiting for you! 

But it is appropriate to ask one thing more. There still were 
prisoners of war who did not accept recruiting offers, who never 
worked for the Germans at their profession or trade, and who 
were not camp police, who spent the whole war in POW camps, 
without sticking their noses outside, and who, in spite of every¬ 
thing, did not die, however unlikely this was. For example, they 
made cigarette lighters out of scrap metal, like the electric^ 
engineers Nikolai Andreyevich Semyonov and Fyodor Fyodoro¬ 
vich Karpov, and in that way managed to get enough to eat. And 
did the Motherland forgive them for surrendering? 

No, it did not forgive them! I met both Semyonov and Karpov 
in the Butyrki after they had already received their lawful sen¬ 
tence. And what was it? The alert reader already knows: ten 
years of imprisonment and five muzzled. As brilliant engineers, 
they had rejected German offers to work at their profession. In 
1941 Junior Lieutenant Semyonov had gone to the front as a 
volunteer. In 1942 he still didn’t have a revolver; instead, he had 
an empty holster —and the interrogator could not understand 
why he hadn’t shot himself with his holster! He had escaped from 
captivity three times. And in 1945, after he had been liberated 
from a concentration camp, seated atop a tank as a member of 
a penalty unit of tank-borne infantry, he took part in the capture 
of Berlin and received the Order of the Red Star. Yet, after aU 
that, he was finally imprisoned and sentenced. AU of this mirrored 
our Nemesis. 

Very few of the war prisoners returned across the Soviet border 
as free men, and if one happened to get through by accident be¬ 
cause of the prevailing chaos, he was seized later on, even as late 
as 1946 or 1947. Some were arrested at assembly points in Ger¬ 
many. Others weren’t arrested openly right away but were trans¬ 
ported from the border in freight cars, under convoy, to one of 
the numerous Identification and Screening Camps (PFL’s) scat¬ 
tered throughout the country. These camps differed in no way 
from the common run of Corrective Labor Camps (ITL’s) ex¬ 
cept that their prisoners had not yet been sentenced but would 
be sentenced there. All these PFL’s were also attached to some 

That Spring \ 249 

kind of factory, or mine, or construction project, and the former 
POW’s, looking out on the Motherland newly restored to them 
through the same barbed wire through which they had seen 
Germany, could begin work from their first day on a ten-hour 
work day. Those under suspicion were questioned during their 
rest periods, in the evenings, and at night, and there were large 
numbers of Security officers and interrogators in the PFL’s for 
this purpose. As always, the interrogation began with the 
hypothesis that you were obviously guilty. And you, without 
going outside the barbed wire, had to prove that you were not 
guilty. Your only available means to this end was to rely on 
witnesses who were exactly the same kind of POW’s as you. 
Obviously they might not have turned up in your own PFL; they 
might, in fact, be at the other end of the country; in that case, the 
Security officers of, say, Kemerovo would send off inquiries to 
the Security officers of Solikamsk, who would question the wit¬ 
nesses and send back their answers along with new inquiries, 
and you yourself would be questioned as a witness in some other 
case. True, it might take a year or two before your fate was 
resolved, but after all, the Motherland was losing nothing in the 
process. You were out mining coal every day. And if one of 
your witnesses gave the wrong sort of testimony about you, or if 
none of your witnesses was alive, you had only yourself to blame, 
and you were sure to be entered in the documents as a traitor of 
the Motherland. And the visiting military court would rubber- 
stamp your tenner. And if, despite all their twisting things about, 
it appeared that you really hadn’t worked for the Germans, and 
if—and this was the main point—^you had not had the chance 
to see the Americans and English with your own eyes (to have 
been liberated from captivity by them instead of by us was a 
gravely aggravating circumstance), then the Security officers 
would decide the degree of isolation in which you were to be 
held. Certain people were ordered to change their place of resi¬ 
dence—^which always breaks a person’s ties with his environment 
and makes him more vulnerable. Others were valiantly offered 
the chance to go to work in the VOKhR, the Militarized Guard 
Service. In that situation, while nominally remaining free, a man 
lost aU his personal freedom and was sent off to some isolated 
area. There was a third category: after a handshake, some were 


humanely permitted to return home, although, even without 
aggravating circumstances, they deserved to be shot for having 
surrendered. But people in this category celebrated prematurely! 
Even before the former prisoner arrived home, his case had 
reached his home district through the secret chaimels of State 
Security. These people remained eternally outsiders. And with 
the first mass arrests, like those of 1948-1949, they were im¬ 
mediately arrested for hostile propaganda or some oAer reason. 
I was imprisoned with people in that category too. 

“Oh, if I had only known!” That was the refrain in the prison 
cells that spring. If I had only known that this was how I would 
be greeted! That they would deceive me so! That this would be 
my fate! Would I have really returned to my Motherland? Not 
for anything! I would have made my way to Switzerland, to 
France! I would have gone across the sea, across the ocean! 
Across three oceans!^ 

But the more thoughtful prisoners corrected them. They had 
made their mistake earlier! They were stupid to have dashed off 
to the front lines in 1941. It takes a fool to rush off to war! Right 
from the start, they should have gotten themselves set up in the 
rear. Somewhere quiet. Those who cfid are heroes now. And it 
would have been an even surer thing just to desert. Almost cer¬ 
tainly, one’s skin would be whole. They didn’t get ten years 
either—^but eight, or seven. And they weren’t excluded from any 
of the cushy jobs in camp. After all, a deserter was not regarded 
as an enemy or a traitor or a political prisoner. He was con¬ 
sidered not a hostile factor but a friendly one, a nonpolitical 
offender, so to speak. That point of view aroused passionate 

7. In actual fact, even when POWs actually knew what would happen to 
them, they behaved in exactly the same way. Vasily Aleksandrov was taken 
prisoner in Finland. He was sought out there by some elderly Petersburg 
merchant who asked him his name and patronymic and then said: “In 1917 I 
owed yom- grandfather a large debt, and I didn’t have the chance to pay it. 
Here you are—^take it!” An old debt is a windfall! After the war Aleksandrov 
was accepted by the circle of . Russian Emigres, and he got engaged to a girl 
there whom he came to love—and not just casually. To educate him, his future 
father-in-law gave him a bound set of Pravda —^just as it was issued from 1918 
to 1941, without any deletions or corrections. At the same time, he recounted 
to him more or less completely the history of the waves of arrests, as we have 
set it forth in Chapter 2, above. And nevertheless . . . Aleksandrov abandoned 
his fiancee, and his wealth, and returned to the U.S.S.R., where he was given, 
as one can easily guess, ten years and disenfranchisement for five more. In 1953 
he was happy to have managed to snag himself a job as foreman in a Special 

That Spring \ 251 

argument and objections. The deserters had to spend all those 
years rotting in prison, and they would not be forgiven. But 
there would soon be an amnesty for everyone else; they would 
all be released. (At that time the principal advantage of being a 
deserter was still unknown.) 

Those who had gotten in via 58-10, snatched from their 
apartments or from the Red Army, often envied the rest. What 
the hell! For the very same money, in other words for the same 
ten-year sentence, they could have seen so many interesting 
things, like those other fellows, who had been just about every¬ 
where! And here we are, about to croak in camp, without ever 
having seen anything beyond our own stinking stairs. Inciden¬ 
tally, those who were in on Article 58-10 could hardly conceal 
their triumphant presentiment that they would be the &st to be 

The only ones who did not sigh: “Oh, if I had only known”— 
because they knew very well what they were doing—and the 
only ones who did not expect any mercy and did not expect an 
amnesty—^were the Vlasov men. 

I had known about them and been perplexed about them long 
before our unexpected meeting on the board bunks of prison. 

First there had been the leaflets, repeatedly soaked through, 
dried out, and lost in the high grass—^uncut for the third year— 
of the front-line strip near Orel. In December, 1942, they had 
announced the creation in Smolensk of a “Russian Committee” 
—^which apparently claimed to be some sort of Russian govern¬ 
ment and yet at the same time seemed not to be one. Evidently 
the Germans themselves had not yet made up their minds. For 
that reason, the communique seemed to be a hoax. There was a 
photograph of General Vlasov in the leaflets, and his biography 
was outlined. In the fuzzy photograph, his face looked well fed 
and successful, like all our generals of the new stripe. They told 
me later that this wasn’t so, that Vlasov’s face was more like that 
of a Western general—^high, thin, with hom-rimmed glasses. His 
biography testified to a penchant for success. He had begun in 
a peasant family, and 1937 had not broken his skyrocketing 
career; nor was it ruined by his service as a military adviser to 


Chiang Kai-shek. The first and only disaster of his earlier life 
had occurred when his Second Shock Army, after being en¬ 
circled, was ineptly abandoned to die of starvation. But how 
much of that whole biography could be believed?® 

8. As far as one can establish at this late date, Andrei Andreyevich Vlasov, 
prevented by the Revolution from completing his studies at the Nizhni Nov¬ 
gorod Orthodox Seminary, was drafted into the Red Army in 1919 and fought 
as an enlisted man. On the southern front, against Denikin and Wrangel, he 
rose to be commander of a platoon, then of a company. In the twenties he 
completed the Vystrel courses. He became a member of the Communist Party 
in 1930. In 1936, having attained the rank of regimental commander, he was 
sent to China as a military adviser. Evidently he had no ties to the top military 
and Party circles, and he therefore turned up naturally in that Stalinist “second 
echelon” of officers promoted to replace the purged commanders of armies, 
divisions, and brigades. From 1938 on he commanded a division. And in 
1940, when “new” (in other words, old) officer ranks were created, he became 
a major general. From additional information one can conclude that in that 
corps of newly made generals, many of whom were totally stupid and inexperi¬ 
enced, Vlasov was one of the most talented. His 99th Infantry Division, which 
he had instructed and trained from the summer of 1940 on, was not caught 
off balance by the German attack. On the contrary, while the rest of the army 
reeled backward, his division advanced, retook Przemysl, and held it for six 
days. Quickly skipping the rank of corps conunander, in 1941 Lieutenant Gen¬ 
eral Vlasov was in command of the Thirty-seventh Army near Kiev. He made 
his way out of the enormous Kiev encirclement and in December, 1941, near 
Moscow he commanded the Twentieth Army, whose successful Soviet counter¬ 
offensive for defense of the capital (the taking of Solnechnogorsk) was noted 
in the Sovinformburo communique for December 12. And the List of generals 
mentioned there was as follows: Zhukov, Lelyushenko, Kuznetsov, Vlasov, 
Rokossovsky, Govorov. Thanks to the speed with which officers were promoted 
in those months, he became Deputy Commander of the Volkhov Front (under 
Meretskov), and took over command of the Second Shock Army. On January 
7, 1942, at the head of that army, he began a drive to break the Leningrad 
blockade—an attack across the Volkhov River to the northwest. This had 
been planned as a combined operation, a concerted push from several direc¬ 
tions and from Leningrad itself. At scheduled intervals the Fifty-fourth, the 
Fourth, and the Fifty-second armies were to take part in it also. But those 
three armies either did not advance because they were unready or else came 
to a quick halt. At that time we still didn’t have the capacity to plan such 
complex combined operations, and, more importantly, provide supplies for 
them. Vlasov’s Second Shock Army, however, was successful in its assault, and 
by February, 1942, it was 46 miles deep inside the German lines! And from 
then on, the reckless Stalinist Supreme Command could find neither men nor 
ammunition to reinforce even those troops. (That’s the kind of reserves they 
had begun the offensive with!) Leningrad, too, was left to die behind the 
blockade, having received no specific information from Novgorod. During 
March the winter roads still held up. From April on, however, the entire 
swampy area through which the Second Army had advanced melted into mud, 
and there were no supply roads, and there was no help from the air. The army 
was without food and, at the same time, Vlasov was refused permission to re¬ 
treat. For two months they endured starvation and extermination. In the 
Butyrki, soldiers from that army told me how they had cut off the hoofs of 
dead and rotting horses and boiled the scrapings and eaten them. Then, on 
May 14, a German attack was launched from all sides against the encircled 

That Spring \ 253 

From his photograph, it was impossible to believe that he was 
an outstanding man or that for long years he had suffered pro¬ 
foundly for Russia. As for the leaflets reporting the creation of 
the ROA, the “Russian Liberation Army,” not only were they 
written in bad Russian, but they were imbued with an alien 
spirit that was clearly German and, moreover, seemed little con¬ 
cerned with their presumed subject; besides, and on the other 
hand, they contained crude boasting about the plentiful chow 
available and the cheery mood of the soldiers. Somehow one 
couldn’t believe in that army, and, if it really did exist, what kind 
of cheery mood could it be in? Only a German could lie like 

army. The only planes in the air, of course, were German. And only then, in 
mockery, were they given permission to pull back behind the Volkhov. They 
made several hopeless attempts to break through—until the beginning of July. 

And so it was that Vlasov’s Second Shock Army perished, literally recapitu¬ 
lating the fate of Samsonov’s Russian Second Army in World War I, having 
been just as insanely thrown into encirclement. 

Now this, of course, was treason to the Motherland! This, of course, was 
vicious, self-obsessed betrayal! But it was Stalin’s. Treason does not necessarily 
involve selling out for money. It can include ignorance and carelessness in the 
preparations for war, confusion and cowardice at its very start, the meaningless 
sacrifice of armies and corps solely for the sake of saving one’s own marshal’s 
uniform. Indeed, what more bitter treason is there on the part of a Supreme 
Commander in Chief? 

Unlike Samsonov, Vlasov did not commit suicide. After his army had been 
wiped out, he wandered among the woods and swamps and, on July 6, per¬ 
sonally surrendered in the area of Siverskaya. He was taken to the German 
headquarters near Lotzen in East Prussia, where they were holding several 
captured generals and a brigade political commissar, G. N. Zhilenkov, formerly 
a successful Party official and secretary of one of the Moscow District Party 
Committees. These captives had already confessed their disagreement with the 
policy of the Stalin government. But they had no real leader. Vlasov became it. 

9. In reality there was no Russian Liberation Army until almost the very 
end of the war. Both the name and the insignia devised for it were invented 
by a German of Russian origin. Captain Strik-Strikfeldt, in the Ost-Propaganda- 
Abteilung. Although he held only a minor position, he had influence, and he 
tried to convince the Hitlerite leadership that a German-Russian alliance was 
essential and that the Russians should be encouraged to collaborate with Ger¬ 
many. A vain undertaking for both sides! Each side wanted only to use and 
deceive the other. But, in the given situation, the Germans had power—they 
were on top of the setup. And the Vlasov officers had only their fantasy—at 
the bottom of the abyss. There was no such army, but anti-Soviet formations 
made up of Soviet citizens were organized from the very start of the war. The 
first to support the Germans were the Lithuanians. In the one year we had 
been there we had aroused their deep, angry hostility! And then the SS-Galicia 
Division was created from Ukrainian volunteers. And Estonian units afterward. 
In the fall of 1941, guard companies appeared in Byelorussia. And a Tatar 
battalion in the Crimea. We ourselves had sowed the seeds of all this! Take, 


We soon discovered that there really were Russians fighting 
against us and that they fought harder fiian any SS men. In July, 
1943, for example, near Orel, a platoon of Russians in German 
uniform defended Sobakinskiye Vyselki. They fought with the 
desperation that might have been expected if they had built the 
place themselves. One of them was driven into a root cellar. 
They threw hand grenades in after him mid he fell silent. But 
they had no more than stuck their heads in than he let them 
have another volley from his automatic pistol. Only when they 
lobbed in an antitank grenade did they find out that, within the 
root cellar, he had another foxhole in which he had taken shelter 
from the infantry grenades. Just try to imagine the degree of 
shock, deafness, and hopelessness in which he had kept on 

They defended, for example, the unshakable Dnieper bridge¬ 
head south of Tursk. For two weeks we continued to fight there 
for a mere few hundred yards. The battles were fierce in Decem¬ 
ber, 1943, and so was the cold. Through many long days both 
we and they went through the extreme trials of winter, fighting 

for example, our stupid twenty-year policy of closing and destroying the 
Moslem mosques in the Crimea. And compare that with the policy of the 
farsighted conqueror Catherine the Great, who contributed state funds for 
building and expanding the Crimean mosques. And the Hitlerites, when they 
arrived, were smart enough to present themselves as their defenders. Later, 
Caucasian detachments and Cossack armies—^more than a cavalry corps—put 
in an appearance on the German side. In the first winter of the war, platoons 
and companies of Russian volunteers began to be formed. But the German 
Command was very distrustful of these Russian units, and their master ser¬ 
geants and lieutenants were Germans. Only their noncoms below master ser¬ 
geant were Russian. They also used such German commands as “Achtung!,” 
“Halt!” etc. More significant and entirely Russian were the following units: a 
brigade in Lokot, in Bryansk Province, from November, 1941, when a local 
teacher of engineering, K. P. Voskoboinikov, proclaimed the “National Labor 
Party of Russia” and issued a manifesto to the citizens of the nation, hoisting 
the flag of St. George; a unit in the Osintorf settlement near Orsha, formed 
at the beginning of 1942 under the leadership of Russian emigres (it must be 
said that only a small group of Russian Emigres joined this movement, and 
even they did not conceal their anti-German feelings and allowed many cross¬ 
overs [including a whole battalion] to the Soviet side . . . after which they 
were dropped by the Germans); and a unit formed by Gil, in the summer of 
1942, near Lublin. (V. V. Gil, a Communist Party member and even, it seems, 
a Jew, not only survived as a POW but, with the help of other POW’s, became 
the head of a camp near Suwalki and offered to create a “fighting alliance of 
Russian nationalists” for the Germans.) However, there was as yet no Russian 
Liberation Army in all of this and no Vlasov. The companies under German 
command were put on the Russian front, as an experiment, and the Russian 
units were sent against the Bryansk, Orsha, and Polish partisans. 

That Spring \ 255 

in winter camouflage cloaks that covered our overcoats and caps. 
Near Malye Kozlovichi, I was told, an interesting encounter took 
place. As the soldiers dashed back and forth among the pines, 
things got confused, and two soldiers lay down next to one 
another. No longer very accurately oriented, ’they kept shooting 
at someone, somewhere over there. Both had Soviet automatic 
pistols. They shared their cartridges, praised one another, and 
together swore at the grease freezing on their automatic pistols. 
Finally, their pistols stopped firing altogether, and they decided 
to take a break and light up. They pulled back their white hoods 
—and at the same instant each saw the other’s cap ... the eagle 
and the star. They jumped up! Their automatic pistols still 
refused to fire! Grabbing them by the barrel and swinging them 
like clubs, they began to go at each other. This, if you will, was 
not politics and not the Motherland, but just sheer caveman 
distrust: KI take pity on him, he is going to kill me. 

In East Prussia, a trio of captured Vlasov men was being 
marched along the roadside a few steps away from me. At that 
moment a T-34 tank thimdered down the highway. Suddenly one 
of the captives twisted around and dived underneath the tank. 
The tank veered, but the edge of its track crushed him neverthe¬ 
less. The broken man lay writhing, bloody foam coming from 
his mouth. And one could certainly understand him! He pre¬ 
ferred a soldier’s death to being hanged in a dungeon. 

They had no choice. There was no other way for them to fight. 
They had no chance to find a way out, to safegutard their lives, by 
some more cautious mode of fighting. If “pure” surrender was 
considered unforgivable treason to the Motherland, then what 
about those who had taken up enemy arms? Our propaganda, 
in all its crudity, explained their conduct as: (1) treason (was it 
biologically based? carried in the bloodstream?); or (2) coward¬ 
ice—which it certainly was not! A coward tries to find a spot 
where things are easy, soft, safe. And men could be induced to 
enter the Wehrmacht’s Vlasov detachments only in the last ex¬ 
tremity, only at the limit of desperation, only out of inexhaustible 
hatred of the Soviet regime, only with total contempt for their 
own safety. For they knew they would never have the faintest 
glimpse of mercy! 'W^en we captured them, we shot them as soon 
as the first intelligible Russian word came from their mouths. In 


Russian captivity, as in German captivity, the worst lot of all 
was reserved for the Russians. 

In general, this war revealed to us that the worst thing in the 
world was to be a Russian. 

I recall with shame an incident I observed during the liquida¬ 
tion—^in other words, the plundering—of the Bobruisk encircle¬ 
ment, when I was walking along the highway among wrecked 
and overturned German automobiles, and a wealth of booty lay 
scattered everywhere. German cart horses wandered aimlessly 
in and out of a shallow depression where wagons and automo¬ 
biles that had gotten stuck were buried in the mud, and bonfires 
of booty were smoking away. Then I heard a cry for help: “Mr. 
Captain! Mr. Captain!” A prisoner on foot in German britches 
was crying out to me in pure Russian. He was naked from the 
waist up, and his face, chest, shoulders, and back were aU 
bloody, while a sergeant osobist, a Security man, seated on a 
horse, drove him forward with a whip, pushing him with his 
horse. He kept lashing that naked back up and down with the 
whip, without letting him turn around, without letting him ask 
for help. He drove him along, beating and beating him, raising 
new crimson welts on his skin. 

And this was not one of the Punic Wars, nor a war between 
the Greeks and the Persians! Any officer, possessing any author¬ 
ity, in any army on earth ought to have stopped that senseless 
torture. In any army on earth, yes, but in ours? Given our fierce 
and uncompromising method of dividing mankind? (If you are 
not with us, if you are not our own, etc., then you deserve nothing 
but contempt and annihilation.) So I way afraid to defend the 
Vlasov man against the osobist. I said nothing and I did nothing. 
I passed him by as if I could not hear him ... so that I myself 
would not be infected by that universally recognized plague. 
(What if the Vlasov man was indeed some kind of supervillain? 
Or maybe the osobist would think something was wrong with 
me? And then?) Or, putting it more simply for anyone who 
knows anything about the situation in the Soviet Army at that 
time: would that osobist have paid any attention to an army 

So the osobist continued to lash the defenseless man brutally 
and drive him along like a beast. 

This picture will remain etched in my mind forever. This, after 

That Spring \ 257 

all, is almost a symbol of the Archipelago. It ought to be on the 
jacket of this book. 

The Vlasov men had a presentiment of all this; they knew it 
ahead of time; nevertheless, on the left sleeve of their German 
uniforms they sewed the shield with the white-blue-red edging, 
the field of St. Andrew, and the letters “ROA.”^® The inhabitants 

10. These letters became even better known, although, as before, there was 
still no real Russian Liberation Army. The units were all scattered and kept 
subordinate to German orders, and the Vlasov generals had nothing to do but 
play cards in Dahlemdorf, near Berlin. By the middle of 1942, Voskoboinikov’s 
brigade, which, after his death, was commanded by Kaminsky, numbered five 
infantry regiments of 2,500 to 3,000 men each, with attached artillery crews, 
a tank battalion consisting of two dozen Soviet tanks, and an artillery battalion 
with three dozen guns. The commanding officers were POW officers, and the 
rank and file was made up, in considerable part, of local Bryansk volunteers. 
This brigade was under orders to guard the area against partisans. In the sum¬ 
mer of 1942, the brigade of Gil-Blazhevich was transferred for the same 
purpose from Poland, where it had been notable for its cruelty toward Poles 
and Jews, to the area near Mogilev. At the beginning of 1943, its command 
refused to acknowledge Vlasov’s authority, demanding that he explain why, 
in his stated program, there was no reference to the “struggle against world 
Jewry and Jew-loving commissars.” These were the very men—called the 
Rodionovites, because Gil had changed his name to Rodionov—who in August, 
1943, when Hitler’s approaching defeat became apparent, changed their black 
flag with a silver skull to a red flag, and proclaimed Soviet authority and a large 
“partisan region” in the northeast corner of Byelorussia. 

At that time, Soviet newspapers began to write about the “partisan region,” 
but without explaining its origins. Later on, all surviving Rodionovites were 
imprisoned. And whom did the Germans immediately throw in against the 
Rodionovites? The Kaminsky brigade! That was in May, 1944, and they also 
threw in thirteen of their own divisions in an effort to liquidate the “partisan 
region.” That was the extent to which Germans understood all those 
tricolor cockades, St. George, and the field of St. Andrew. The Russian and 
German languages were mutually untranslatable, inexpressible, uncorrelatable. 
Still worse: in October, 1944, the Germans threw in Kaminsky’s brigade— 
with its Moslem units—to suppress the Warsaw uprising. While one group of 
Russians sat traitorously dozing beyond the Vistula, watching the death of 
Warsaw through their binoculars, other Russians crushed the uprising! Hadn’t 
the Poles had enough Russian villainy to bear in the nineteenth century with¬ 
out having to endure more of it in the twentieth? For that matter, was that the 
last of it? Perhaps more is still to come. The career of the Osintorf Battalion 
was apparently more straightforward. This consisted of about six hundred 
soldiers and two hundred officers, with an Emigre command, I. K. Sakharov 
and Lamsdorf, Russian uniforms, and a white-blue-red flag; it was thrown in 
near Pskov. Then, reinforced to regimental strength, it was readied for a para¬ 
chute drop on the line of Vologda-Archangel, the idea being to make use of 
the nest of concentration camps in that area. Throughout 1943, Igor Sakharov 
managed to prevent his unit from being sent against the partisans. But then 
he was replaced and the battalion was first disarmed and imprisoned in a camp 
and then sent off to the Western Front. Then, in the fall of 1943, the Germans 
decided to send the Russian cannon fodder to the Atlantic Wall, and against 
the French and Italian Resistance, having lost, forgotten, and not even tried 
to recall its original purpose. Those among the Vlasov men who had managed 
to retain some kind of political rationality or hope thereupon lost both. 


of the occupied areas held diem in contempt as German hire¬ 
lings. So did the Germans, because of their Russian blood. Their 
pitiful littie newspapers were worked over with a German cen¬ 
sor’s broadsword: Greater Germany and the Fuhrer. And the 
Vlasov men had one way out of all that—^to fight to the death, 
and, when they were not fighting, to down vodka and more 
vodka. Foredoomed —^that was their existence during all their 
years of war and alien lands; and there was no salvation for 
them from any direction. 

Hitler and those around him, even when they were retreating 
on every front and were staring their own destruction in the face, 
could still not overcome their intense distrust of wholly separate 
Russian units; they could not bring themselves to organize divi¬ 
sions that were entirely Russian, to allow even the shadow of a 
Russia that was not totally subject to them. Only in the crack 
of the final debacle, in November, 1944, was a belated theatrical 
production at last permitted in Prague: the creation of a “Com¬ 
mittee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia,” combining 
all the different national groups, and a manifesto, which, like 
everything that had preceded it, was neither fish nor fowl, since 
the concept of a Russia independent of Germany and Nazism 
was still not tolerated. Vlasov became chairman of the commit¬ 
tee. And only in the fall of 1944 did they begin to form Vlasov 
divisions that were exclusively Russian.^^ Probably the wise Ger¬ 
man political leaders had concluded that at this point the Russian 
workers in Germany (the “ostovtsy”) would rush to take up 
arms. But the Red Army was already on the Vistula and the 
Danube. And ironically, as though to confirm the farsightedness 
of the very nearsighted Germans, those Vlasov divisions, in their 
first and last independent action, dealt a blow—^to the Germans 
themselves. In the general disaster, Vlasov gathered up his two 
and a half divisions near Prague at the end of April, without 
coordinating his action with the German Supreme Command. 
It became known at this point that SS Genered Steiner was pre¬ 
paring to destroy the Czech capital rather than surrender it in¬ 
tact. And Vlasov ordered his divisions to the aid of the Czech 

11. They were: the 1st, based on “the Kaminsky brigade,” under S. K. 
Bunyachenko; the 2nd, under Zverev (former military commandant of Khar¬ 
kov); half the 3rd; segments of the 4th; and Maltsev’s air force detachment. 
Only four divisions were authorized. 

That Spring \ 259 

rebels. And at that point, all the hurt, bitterness, and anger 
against the Germans that had accumulated during three cruel 
and futile years in the breasts of the enslaved Russians was 
vented in the attack on the Germans. They were shoved out of 
Prague from an unexpected direction. Did all Czechs realize 
later which Russians had saved their city? Our own history is 
similarly distorted; we claim that Prague was saved by Soviet 
armies, although they couldn’t have gotten there in time. 

Then the Vlasov army began to retreat toward Bavaria and 
the Americans. They were pinning all their hopes on the possi¬ 
bility of being useful to the Allies; in this way their years of 
dangling in the German noose would finally become meaningful. 
But the Americans greeted them with a wall of armor and forced 
them to surrender to Soviet hands, as stipulated by the Yalta 
Conference. In Austria that May, Churchill perpetrated the same 
sort of “act of a loyal ally,” but, out of our accustomed modesty, 
we did not publicize it. He turned over to the Soviet command 
the Cossack corps of 90,000 men.^^ Along with them, he also 

12. This surrender was an act of double-dealing consistent with the spirit of 
traditional English diplomacy. The heart of the matter was that the Cossacks 
were determined to fight to the death, or to cross the ocean, all the way to 
Paraguay or Indochina if they had to . . . anything rather than surrender alive. 
Therefore, the English proposed, first, that the Cossacks give up their arms 
on the pretext of replacing them with standardized weapons. Then the officers 
—without the enlisted men—^were summoned to a supposed conference on the 
future of the army in the city of Judenburg in the English occupation zone. 
But the English had secretly turned the city over to the Soviet armies the night 
before. Forty busloads of officers, all the way from commanders of companies 
on up to General Krasnov himself, crossed a high viaduct and drove straight 
down into a semicircle of Black Marias, next to which stood convoy guards 
with lists in their hands. The road back was blocked by Soviet tanks. The officers 
didn’t even have anything with which to shoot themselves or to stab themselves 
to death, since their weapons had been taken away. They jumped from the 
viaduct onto the paving stones below. Immediately afterward, and just as 
treacherously, the English turned over the rank-and-file soldiers by the train¬ 
load—pretending that they were on their way to receive new weapons from 
their commanders. 

In their own countries Roosevelt and Churchill are honored as embodiments 
of statesmanlike wisdom. To us, in our Russian prison conversations, their 
consistent shortsightedness and stupidity stood out as astonishingly obvious. 
How could they, in their decline from 1941 to 1945, fail to secure any guar¬ 
antees whatever of the independence of Eastern Europe? How could they give 
away broad regions of Saxony and Thuringia in exchange for the preposterous 
toy of a four-zone Berlin, their own future Achilles’ heel? And what was the 
military or political sense in their surrendering to destruction at Stalin’s hands 
hundreds of thousands of armed Soviet citizens determined not to surrender? 
They say it was the price they paid for Stalin’s agreeing to enter the war against 
Japan. With the atom bomb already in their hands, they paid Stalin for not 


handed over many wagonloads of old people, women, and 
children who did not want to return to their native Cossack 
rivers. This great hero, monuments to whom will in time cover 
all England, ordered that they, too, be surrendered to their 

In addition to the hurriedly created Vlasov divisions, quite a 
few Russian subunits went right on turning sour in the depths of 
the German Army, wearing standard German uniforms. They 
finished out the war on various sectors and in different ways. 

I myself fell under Vlasov fire a few days before my arrest. 
There were Russians in the East Prussian “sack” which we had 
surrounded, and one night at the end of January their unit tried 
to break through our position to the west, without artillery prepa¬ 
ration, in silence. There was no firmly delineated front in any 
case, and they penetrated us in depth, catching my sound-locator 
battery, which was out in front, in a pincers. I just barely 
managed to pull it back by the last remaining road. But then I 
went back for a piece of damaged equipment, and, before dawn, 
I watched as they suddenly rose from the snow where they’d dug 
in, wearing their winter camouflage cloaks, hurled themselves 
with a cheer on the battery of a 152-millimeter gun battalion at 
Adlig Schwenkitten, and knocked out twelve heavy cannon with 
hand grenades before they could fire a shot. Pursued by their 
tracer bullets, our last little group ran almost two miles in fresh 
snow to the bridge across the Passarge River. And there they 
were stopped. 

Soon after that I was arrested. And now, on the eve of the 
Victory Parade, here we all were sitting together on the board 
bunks of the But)nrki. I took puffe from their cigarettes and they 
took puffs from mine. And paired with one or another of them, 
I used to carry out the six-bucket tin latrine barrel. 

Many of the Vlasov men, like the “spies for hire,” were 

refusing to occupy Manchuria, for strengthening Mao Tse-tung in China, and 
for giving Kim II Sung control of half Korea! What bankruptcy of political 
thought! And when, subsequently, the Russians pushed out Mikolajczyk, when 
Benes and Masaryk came to their ends, when Berlin was blockaded, and Buda¬ 
pest flamed and fell silent, and Korea went up in smoke, and Britain’s Con¬ 
servatives fled from Suez, could one really believe that those among them 
with the most accurate memories did not at least recall that episode of the 

That Spring | 261 

young, bom, say, between 1915 and 1922, that same “yoimg 
and unknown tribe” which hustling-bustling Lunacharsky had 
hurried to greet in the name of Pushkin. Most of them got into 
Vlasov military units through that same blind chance which led 
their comrades in a neighboring camp to get into the spy thing 
—^it all depended on which recruiter had gone where. 

The recruiters had explained to them jeeringly—or rather, it 
would have been jeering if it hadn’t been the tmth: “Stalin has 
renounced you! Stalin doesn’t give a damn about you!” 

Soviet law had outlawed them even before they outlawed 

So they signed up—some of them simply to get out of a death 
camp, others with the hope of going over to the partisans. (And 
some of them did! And fought side by side with the partisans! 
But according to Stalin’s rules that didn’t soften their sentences 
in the least.) However, in the case of some, the shame of 1941, 
that stunning defeat after long, long years of braggadocio, ate at 
their hearts. Some believed that the primary guilt for those in¬ 
human POW camps belonged to Stalin. They, too, wanted the 
chance to speak out about themselves and their awful experi¬ 
ence: to aflSrm that they, too, were particles of Russia, and 
wanted to influence Russia’s future, and not to be the puppets of 
other people’s mistakes. 

But fate played them an even bitterer trick, and they became 
more abject pawns than before. The Germans, in their shallow 
stupidity and self-importance, allowed them only to die for the 
German Reich, but denied them the right to plan an independent 
destiny for Russia. 

And the Allies were two thousand versts away—and anyway, 
what kind of allies would they indeed turn out to be? 

The term “Vlasovite” in our country has the same force as 
the word “sewage.” We feel we are dirtying our mouths merely 
by pronouncing it, and therefore no one dares utter a sentence 
with “Vlasovite” as its subject. 

But that is no way to write history. Now, a quarter of a cen¬ 
tury later, when most of them have perished in camps and those 
who have survived are living out their lives in the Far North, I 
would like to issue a reminder, through these pages, that this 
was a phenomenon totally unheard of in all world history: that 


several hundred thousand young men/® aged twenty to thirty, 
took up arms against their Fatherland as allies of its most evil 
enemy. Perhaps there is something to ponder here: Who was 
more to blame, those youths or the gray Fatherland? One cannot 
explain this treason biologically. It has to have had a social 

Because, as the old proverb says: Well-fed horses don't ram¬ 

Then picture to yourself a field in which starved, neglected, 
crazed horses are rampaging back and forth. 

That same spring many Russian 6migr6s were also in those cells. 

It was very like a dream: the resurrection of buried history. 
The weighty tomes on the Civil War had long since been com¬ 
pleted and their covers shut tight. The causes for which people 
fought in it had been decided. The chronology of its events had 
been set down in textbooks. The leaders of the White movement 
were, it appeared, no longer our contemporaries on earth but 
mere ghosts of a past that had melted away. The Russian emigre 
had been more cruelly dispersed than the tribes of Israel. And, 
in our Soviet imagination, if they were still dragging out their 
lives somewhere, it was as pianists in stinking little restaurants, 
as lackeys, laundresses, beggars, morphine and cocaine addicts, 
and virtual corpses. Right up to 1941, when the war came, it 
would have been impossible to find out from any hints in our 
newspapers, our lofty literature, our criticism of the arts (nor 
did our own well-fed masters of art and literature help us find 
out) that Russia Abroad was a great spiritual world, that in it 
Russian philosophy was living and developing; that out there 
were philosophers like Bulgakov, Berdyayev, and Lossky; that 
Russian art had enchanted the world; that Rachmaninoff, Chal¬ 
iapin, Benois, Diaghilev, Pavlova, and the Don Cossack Chorus 
of Jaroff were out there; that profound studies of Dostoyevsky 
were being undertaken (at a time when he was anathema in the 

13. This, in fact, is the number of Soviet citizens who were in the Wehr- 
macht—in pre-Vlasov and Vlasov formations, and in the Cossack, Moslem, 
Baltic, and Ukrainian units and detachments. 

That Spring \ 263 

Soviet Union); that the incredible writer Nabokov-Sirin also 
existed out there; that Bunin himself was still alive and had been 
writing for all these twenty years; thiat;journals of the arts were 
being published; that theatrical works were being produced; that 
Russians from the same areas of Russia came together in groups 
where their mother tongue could be heard; and that 6migr6 men 
had not given up marrying Emigre women, who in turn presented 
them wiA children, which meant young'people our own age. 

The picture of emigration presented in our country was so 
falsified that if one had conducted a mass survey to ask which 
side the Russian Emigres were on in the Spanish Civil War, or 
else, perhaps, what side they were on in the Second World War, 
with one voice everyone would have replied: For Franco! For 
Hitler! Even now people in our country do not know that many 
more White emigres fought on the Republican side in Spain. 
That both the Vlasov divisions and the Cossack corps of von 
Pannwitz (the “Krasnov” corps) were made up of Soviet citizens 
and not of emigr6s. The emigres did not support Hitler. They 
ostracized Merezhkovsky and Gippius, who took Hitler’s part, 
leaving them to alienated loneliness. There was a joke—except 
it wasn’t a joke—to the effect that Denikin wanted to fight for 
the Soviet Union against Hitler, and that at one time Stalin 
planned to arrange his return to the Motherland, not for military 
reasons, obviously, but as a symbol of national unity. During the 
German occupation of France, a horde of Russian emigres, 
young and old, joined the Resistance. And after the liberation 
of Paris they swarmed to the Soviet Embassy to apply for per¬ 
mission to return to the Motherland. No matter what kind of 
Russia it was—it was still Russia! That was their slogan, and 
that is how they proved they had not been lying previously about 
their love for her. (Imprisoned in 1945 and 1946, they were 
almost happy that these prison bars and these jailers were their 
own, Russian. And they observed with surprise the Soviet boys 
scratching their heads and saying: “Why the hell did we come 
back? Wasn’t there room enough for us in Europe?”) 

But, given that Stalinist logic which said that every Soviet 
person who had lived abroad had to be imprisoned in camp, how 
could the emigres possibly escape the same lot? In the Balkans, 
Central Europe, Harbin, they were arrested' as soon as the Soviet 


armies arrived. They were arrested in their apartments and on 
the street, just like Soviet citizens. For a while State Security 
arrested only men, and not all of them, only those who had in 
one or another way revealed a political bias. Later on, their 
families were transported to exile in Russia, but some were left 
where they were in Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia. In France they 
were welcomed into Soviet citizenship with honors and flowers 
and sent back to the Motherland in comfort; and only when they 
got to the U.S.S.R. were they raked in. Things dragged out 
longer for the Shanghai emigres. In 1945 Russian hands didn’t 
reach that far. But a plenipotentiary from the Soviet government 
went to Shanghai and announced a decree of the Presidium of 
the Supreme Soviet extending forgiveness to all emigres. Well, 
now, how could one refuse to believe that? The government cer¬ 
tainly couldn’t lie! Whether or not there actually was such a 
decree, it did not, in any case, tie the hands of the Organs. The 
Shanghai Russians expressed their delight. They were told they 
could take with them as many possessions as they wanted and 
whatever they wanted. They went home with automobiles—^the 
country could put them to good use. They were told they could 
settle wherever they wanted to in the Soviet Union and, of 
course, work at any profession or trade. They were transported 
from Shanghai in steamships. The fate of the passengers varied. 
On some of the ships, for some reason, they were given no food 
at all. They also suffered various fates after reaching the port of 
Nakhodka (which was, incidentally, one of the main transit 
centers of Gulag). Almost all of them were loaded into freight 
cars, like prisoners, except that they had, as yet, no strict convoy, 
and there were no police dogs. Some of them were actually de¬ 
livered to inhabited places, to cities, and allowed to live there 
for two or three years. Others were delivered in trainloads 
straight to their camps and were dumped out somewhere off a 
high embankment into the forest beyond the Volga, together 
with their white pianos and their jardinieres. In 1948-1949, the 
former Far Eastern emigres who had until then managed to stay 
out of camps were scraped up to the last man. 

As a nine-year-old boy I had read the small dark-blue books 
of V. V. Shulgin with more interest than I had read Jules Verne. 
At that time they were sold openly in our book stalls. His was 

That Spring | 265 

a voice from a world that had disappeared with such finality 
that not even the most extravagant fantasy could have projected 
that invisible point in the soundless corridors of the Big Lub- 
yanka where his steps would intersect my own before twenty years 
had passed. True, I would not meet the man himself until an¬ 
other twenty years had gone by. But I had time to study attentively 
many emigres, old and young, in the spring of 1945. 

I underwent a medicd examination with Captain Borshch and 
Colonel Mariyushkin. And the pitiful sight of their naked, 
wrinkled, dark-yellow bodies, not bodies any longer but mum¬ 
mies, has always remained before my eyes. They were arrested 
five minutes this side of the grave, so to speak, and brought to 
Moscow from several thousand miles away, and there in Mos¬ 
cow, in 1945, an interrogation was proceeding in the most 
serious way on . . . their struggle against Soviet power in 1919! 

We have become so used to the piling up of injustices during 
interrogation and trial that we have ceased drawing any dis¬ 
tinctions of degree between them. This captain and this colonel 
were veteran officers of the Tsar’s Russian Army. They had both 
been over forty, and they had both served in the army for 
twenty years, when the telegraph brought them news that the 
Tsar had been overthrown in Petrograd. For twenty years they 
had served the Tsar according to their oath. And now, against 
their wills—^for all we know, possibly muttering “Beat it! Scram!” 
to themselves—^they swore loyalty to the Provisional Govern¬ 
ment. After that, no one asked them to swear any more oaths 
because the whole army fell apart. They didn’t like the new 
scheme of things, wherein soldiers tore shoulder boards off offi¬ 
cers and killed them, and it was natural for them to join other 
officers to fight against it. And it was natural for the Red Army 
to fight against them and push them into the sea. But in a coun¬ 
try in which at least the rudiments of jurisprudence exist, what 
basis was there for putting them on trial, and a quarter of a cen¬ 
tury later at that? (They had lived as private persons all that 
time . . . Mariyushkin up to the very moment of his arrest. 
Borshch, to be sure, had turned up in a Cossack wagon train in 
Austria, but in a transport, with the old men and women, not in 
an armed unit.) 

However, in 1945, in the very center of Soviet jurisdiction. 


they were charged with: actions directed toward the overthrow 
of the government of the workers’ and peasants’ soviets; armed 
incursion into Soviet territory, in other words, not having im¬ 
mediately left Russia when Petrograd was declared Soviet; aiding 
the international bourgeoisie (which they had never seen even 
in their dreams); serving coimterrevolutionary governments (i.e., 
their own generals, to whom they had been subordinate all their 
lives). And all these sections—Nos. 1, 2, 4, 13—of Article 58 
were included in a Criminal Code adopted in 1926, that is, six 
to seven years after the end of the Civil War. This was a classic 
and unconscionable example of the ex post facto application of 
a law! In addition. Article 2 of the Code specified that it appUed 
only to citizens taken into custody on the territory of the Russian 
Republic. But State Security’s strong right arm had grabbed 
people who were in no wise Soviet citizens from all the countries 
of Europe and Asia,^^ And we won’t even bring up the question 
of statutes of limitations. This question was provided for very 
flexibly—^no statutes of limitations applied to Article 58. (“Why 
stir up the past indeed?”) Such statutes are invoked only in the 
case of our home-grown executioners, who have destroyed many, 
many more of their compatriots than did the whole Civil War. 

Mariyushkin, at least, remembered everything clearly. He told 
us the details of being evacuated from Novorossisk. But Borshch 
had already descended into second childhood and prattled on 
and on about celebrating Easter in the Lubyanka: he had eaten 
only half his bread ration during Palm Sunday week and Holy 
Week and had set the rest of it aside, gradually replacing the 
stale pieces with fresh ones. Thus he had accumulated seven full 
rations when it came time to break the Lenten fast—^and he had 
“feasted” for the three days of Easter. 

I do not know what kind of White Guards they were in the 
Civil War, either of them, whether they were among the ex¬ 
ceptional few who hung every tenth worker without trial and 
whipped the peasants, or whether they were the other kind, the 
soldierly majority. The fact that they were being interrogated 
and sentenced in Moscow was no proof of anything nor a matter 

14. On this basis no single African leader has any assurance that we will 
not, ten years from now, promulgate a law in accordance with which we will 
put him on trial for what he does today. Yes. The Chinese, in fact, will pro¬ 
mulgate precisely such laws—^just give them the chance to reach out that far. 

That Spring \ 267 

of any consequence. But if, from that time on, they had lived 
for a quarter of a century, not as retired officers, on pensions and 
with honor, but as homeless exiles, then how could anyone point 
to any moral basis for trying them? That is the kind of dialectic 
Anatole France mastered, but which we cannot seem to grasp. 
According to Anatole France, by the time it’s today, yesterday’s 
martyr is already in the wrong—^in fact, from the first minute the 
red shirt covered his body. And vice versa. But our version is: 
If they rode me for one short year, when I had just outgrown 
being a foal, then I am called a riding horse all my life, even 
though I have long since been used only as a cab horse. 

Colonel Konstantin Konstantinovich Yasevich was very dif¬ 
ferent from these helpless dmigre mummies. For him, clearly, 
the end of the Civil War had not ended the struggle against 
Bolshevism. As to how he continued to struggle—^where and 
with what—^he did not enlighten me. But the sense that he was 
still in the service remained with him in the cell itself. In the 
midst of all the chaotic concepts, the blurred and broken lines of 
vision, in most of our heads, he had, evidently, a clear and exact 
view of everything around him; as a result of this reasoned point 
of view on life, his body, too, exhibited a steady strength, re¬ 
siliency, and activity. He was certainly not less than sixty. His 
head was totally bald, without a single hair. He had already 
survived his interrogation and was awaiting his sentence, like 
the rest of us. He could expect no help from anywhere, of course. 
But he kept his young, even rosy sldn. Among all of us in the 
cell, he alone did exercises every morning and washed himself at 
the faucet. The rest of us were trying not to squander the calories 
in our prison ration. He put his time to use, and whenever an 
aisle opened up between the rows of board bunks, he paced 
those fifteen to twenty feet with a precise stride and a precise 
profile, crossing his arms over his chest and staring through the 
walls with clear young eyes. 

And the difference between us and him was that we were aU 
astonished at what was happening to us, while nothing around 
him contradicted his expectations, and precisely for that reason 
he was absolutely alone in the cell. 

A year later, I was able to appraise his conduct in prison. 
Once again I was in the Butyrki, and in one of those seventy 


cells I met some young codefendants of Yasevich who had al¬ 
ready been sentenced to ten and fifteen years. The sentences 
given everyone in their group were typed out on cigarette paper, 
and for some reason they had it in their possession. Yasevich 
was first on the list, and his sentence was: to be shot. So that was 
what he saw—^what he foresaw—^through the wall with his still- 
young eyes as he paced back and forth from the table to the 
door! But his unimpaired consciousness of the correctness of his 
path in life lent him extraordinary strength. 

Among the emigres was one my own age, Igor Tronko. We 
became friends. Both of us were weak, dried out; our skin was 
grayish-yellow on our bones. (Why had we collapsed to such an 
extent? I think the main cause was spiritual confusion.) Both of 
us were thin and on the tall side, and we were shaken by the 
gusts of summer wind in the Butyrki courtyards. We always 
walked side by side, with the careful steps of old men, and dis¬ 
cussed the parallels in our lives. He had been bom in South 
Russia the same year as I. We were still nursing babes when 
fate stuck her hand into her well-worn purse and drew out a 
short straw for me and a long one for him. So it was that he 
rolled off across the sea, even though his White Guard , father 
was just a rank-and-file, unpropertied telegrapher. 

I found it interesting in the extreme to picture tlirough his life 
all those compatriots of my generation who had landed outside 
Russia. They had grown up under good family supervision and 
in very modest, even meager, circumstances. They were all very 
well brought up and, within the range of existing possibilities, 
well educated. They grew up without knowing fear or repression, 
though the White organizations maintained a certain yoke of 
authority over them until they themselves grew strong. They 
grew up in such a way that the sins to which all European youth 
was subject in that period—a high crime rate, a frivolous atti¬ 
tude toward life, thoughtlessness, dissipation—did not touch 
them. That was because they grew up, so to speak, in the 
shadow of the indelible misfortune which had befallen their 
families. Whatever country they grew up in, they looked on 
Russia alone as their Motherland. Their spiritual upbringing was 
based on Russian literature, all the more beloved because to 
them it was the beginning and end of their Motherland, because 

That Spring \ 269 

for them their Motherland did not exist as a primary geographi¬ 
cal and physical fact. The contemporary printed word was much 
more generally accessible to them than to us, but they received 
Soviet books in conspicuously small quantities. And they felt 
this lack all the more keenly; it seemed to them chiefly respon¬ 
sible for their inability to understand what was most important, 
highest, and most beautiful in Soviet Russia; and that the books 
they did receive presented a distortion, a lie; were incomplete. 
The picture they had of our real life was very, very faint, but 
their longing for their Motherland was such that if we had called 
on them in 1941 they would all have joined the Red Army, and 
it would have been even sweeter for them to die than to survive. 
These young people from twenty-five to twenty-seven already 
represented and firmly defended several points of view, in defi¬ 
nite conflict with the opinions of the old generals and political 
leaders. Thus Igor’s group was called the “nepredreshentsy”— 
the “non-prejudgers”: they declared that anyone who had not 
shared with the Motherland the whole, complex burden of the 
past decades had no right to decide an)rthing about the future of 
Russia, nor even to presuppose anything, but should simply go 
and lend his strength to whatever die people might decide. 

We would often lie beside one another on the wooden bunks. 
I tried to understand his world as best I could, and our encounter 
revealed to me a concept confirmed by later encounters—that 
the outflow from Russia of a significant part of her spiritual 
forces, which occurred in the Civil War, had deprived us of a 
great and important stream of Russian culture. Everyone who 
really loves that culture will strive for the reunion of both 
streams, the one at home and the tributary abroad. Only then 
will our culture attain wholeness. Only then will it reveal its 
capacity for benign development. 

And I dream of living until that day. 

A human being is weak, weak. In the end, that spring, even the 
most stubborn of us wanted forgiveness and were ready to give 
up a lot for just a little bit more life. An anecdote was current 
among us: “What is your last word, accused?” “I beg you to 


send me wherever you please, just as long as it is under the 
Soviet government and the sun is there!” No one was threatening 
to deprive us of the Soviet government, of course: just of the sun. 
No one wanted to be sent beyond the Arctic Circle, to scurvy 
and malnutrition. For some reason, a legend about the Altai 
region in particular flourished in the cells. Those rare persons 
who had been there at one time or another, but especially those 
who had never been there, wove melodious dreams about the 
wonderful country of the Altai for their cellmates! It had the 
vast expanses of Siberia and a mild climate. Rivers of honey 
flowing between banks of wheat. The steppe and mountains. 
Herds of sheep, flocks of wildfowl, shoals of fish. Populous, rich 

Oh, if only we could find a hiding place in that quiet! If only 
we could listen to the pure resounding of the cock crow in the 
unpolluted air! Or stroke the good, serious face of a horse! 
Curses on you, all you great problems! Let someone else beat 
his head against you, someone more stupid. Oh, just to rest there 
from the interrogator’s mother oaths and the monotonous un¬ 
winding of your whole life, from the crash of the prison locks, 
from the suffocating stuffiness of the cell. Only one life is allotted 
us, one small, short life! And we had been criminal enough to 
push ours in front of somebody’s machine guns, or drag it with 
us, still unsullied, into the dirty rubbish heap of politics. There, 
in the Altai, it appeared, one could live in the lowest, darkest 
hut on the edge of the village, next to the forest. And one could 
go into the woods, not for brushwood and not for mushrooms, 
but just to go, for no reason, and hug two tree trunks: Dear ones, 
you’re all I need. 

And the spring itself sounded a summons to mercy. It was the 
spring that marked the ending of such an enormous war! We saw 
that millions of us prisoners were flowing past and knew that 
millions more would greet us in the camps. It just couldn’t be 
that so many people were to remain in prison after the greatest 

15. Does not the prisoner's dream of the Altai simply continue the old 
peasant dream about it? The so-called lands of His Majesty's Cabinet were in 
the Altai, and because of this the area was closed to colonization much longer 
than the rest of Siberia. But it was there that the peasants wanted most of all 
to settle—and where they actually settled. Is it not from this that the enduring 
legend has arisen? 

That Spring \ 271 

victory in the world! It was just to frighten us that they were 
holding us for the time being: so that we might remember and 
take heed. Of course, there would soon be a total amnesty and 
all of us would be released. Someone even swore that he had 
read in a newspaper that Stalin, replying to some American 
correspondent (whose name I cannot remember), said that after 
the war there would be an amnesty the like of which the world 
had never seen. And one of the interrogators had actually said 
to someone else that there would soon be a general amnesty. 
(These rumors were a help to the interrogators because they 
weakened the prisoners’ will: The hell with him, let’s sign—^it 
isn’t going to be for long anyway.) 

But .. .for mercy one must have wisdom. This has been a truth 
throughout our history and will remain one for a long time to 

We did not heed tiie few sober minds among us who croaked 
out that never, in a Whole quarter-century, had there been an 
amnesty for political prisoners—and that there never wouW be 
one. Some cell expert among the stool pigeons leaped up with an 
answer: “Yes, there was! In 1927. For the tenth anniversary of 
the Revolution. All the prisons were emptied, and white flags 
were flown on all of them.” This astonishing vision of white 
flags on the prisons—^why white?—^was particularly striking.^* 
We brushed aside those wise individuals among us who explained 
that millions of us were imprisoned precisely because the war had 
ended. We were no longer needed at the front. We were danger¬ 
ous in the rear. And, were it not for us, not one brick would ever 
get laid at the remote construction projects. We were too self- 
absorbed even to grasp Stalin’s simple economic calculations— 
let alone his malice. Just who this year, after being demobilized, 
would want to leave his family and home and go off to the 
Kolyma, to Vorkuta, to Siberia, where there were neither roads 

16. Vyshinsky, Ot Tyurem k Vospitatelnym Uchrezhdeniyam, p. 396, 
presents the figures. In the 1927 amnesty, 7.3 percent of the prisoners were 
amnestied. This is a credible figure. Pretty poor for a tenth anniversary. 
Among the political prisoners, women with children were freed and those who 
had only a few months left to serve. In the Verkhne-Uralsk Prison Isolator, 
for example, twelve out of the two hundred prisoners there were released. 
But, in the middle of it, they regretted even this wretched amnesty and began 
to block it: they delayed some releases, and some people who were freed were 
given a “minus” restriction instead of full freedom to go where they pleased. 


nor houses? It was virtually the job of the State Planning Com¬ 
mission to assign to the MVD the number of workers required 
for plan fulfillment and thus the number to be arrested. An 
anmesty, a broad and generous amnesty, was what we waited 
for and thirsted for! Somebody said that in England prisoners were 
amnestied on the anniversary of the coronation, in other words, 
every year. Many politicals had been amnestied on the three 
hundredth anniversary of the Romanovs, in 1912. Could it really 
be possible that now, after we had won a victory which would 
resound throughout our entire era and even longer, the Stalin 
government would be petty and vengeful and would hang onto 
its resentment of every stumble and slip of each of its minuscule 

There is a simple truth which one can learn only through suffer¬ 
ing: in war not victories are blessed but defeats. Governments 
need victories and the people need defeats. Victory gives rise to 
the desire for more victories. But after a defeat it is freedom that 
men desire—and usually attain. A people needs defeat just as an 
individual needs suffering and misfortune: they compel the 
deepening of the inner fife and generate a spiritual upsurge. 

The Poltava victory was a great misfortune for Russia: it 
resulted in two centuries of great strain and stress, ruin, the ab¬ 
sence of freedom—and war and war again. The Poltava victory 
spelled salvation for the Swedes. Having lost the appetite for war, 
the Swedes became the most prosperous and the freest people in 

^ We are so used to taking pride in our victory over Napoleon 

that we leave out of account die fact that because of it the eman¬ 
cipation of the serfs did not take place a half-century sooner. 
Because of it, the strengthened monarchy destroyed the Decem¬ 
brists. (The French occupation was never a reality for Russia.) 
But the Crimean War, and the Japanese War, and our war with 
Germany in the First World War—all those defeats brought us 
freedom and revolution. 

We believed in amnesty that spring, we weren’t being at all 
original in this. Talking with old prisoners, one gradually dis¬ 
covers that this thirst for mercy and this faith in mercy is never 
absent within gray prison walls. For decades and decades, wave 

17. Perhaps, only in the twentieth century, if one is to believe the stories 
one hears, has their stagnating well-being led to moral indigestion. 

That Spring | 273 

after wave of prisoners has thirsted for and believed in either an 
amnesty, or a new Code, or a general review of cases. And the 
rumors about these things have always been supported by the 
Organs with skilled caution. The prisoner’s imagination sees 
the ardently awaited arrival of the angel of liberation in just about 
anything: the next anniversary of the October Revolution, Len¬ 
in’s anniversaries. Victory Day, Red Army Day, Paris Commune 
Day, every new session of the All-Russian Central Executive 
Committee—^the VTsIK—the end of every Five-Year Plan, 
every Plenary Session of the Supreme Court! And the wilder the 
arrests, the more Homeric and mind-boggling the scale of the 
waves of prisoners, the more they inspired not sober-mindedness 
but faith in amnesty! 

All sources of light can to some degree be compared with the 
Sun. And the Sun cannot be compared with anything. So it is 
that all the expectations in the world can be compared with the 
expectation of amnesty, but the expectation of amnesty cannot 
be compared with anything else. 

In the spring of 1945, every newcomer to the cell was asked 
first of all what he had heard about an amnesty. And if two or 
three prisoners were taken from their cells with their things, the 
cell experts immediately compared cases and drew the conclusion 
that theirs were the least serious cases and they had clearly been 
taken out to be released. It had begun! In the toilet and in the 
baths—the prisoners’ post oflices—our “activists” looked every¬ 
where for signs and graffiti about the amnesty. And one day at the 
beginning of July, in the famous lavender vestibule of the Butyrki 
baths, we read the enormous prophecy written in soap on a glazed 
lavender slab far higher than a man’s head—^which meant that 
one man had stood on another’s shoulders in order to write it in 
a place where it would take longer to erase: 

“Hurrah!! Amnesty on July 17!”^® 

What a celebration went on! (“After all, if they hadn’t known 
for sure, they wouldn’t have written it!”) Everything that beat, 
pulsed, circulated in the body came to a stop beneath the wave of 
happiness, the expectation that the doors were about to swing 

But . . . for mercy one must have wisdom. 

18. Indeed, the bastards were wrong by only one digit! For more details on 
the great Stalin amnesty of July 7, 1945, see Part III, Chapter 6. 


In the middle of July, the corridor jailer sent one old man from 
our cell to wash down the toilet, and while they were there eye to 
eye—^for he wouldn’t have dared in the presence of Avitnesses— 
he looked sympathetically at the prisoner’s gray head and asked: 
“What’s your article, father?” “Fifty-eight!” The old man lit up. 
At home three generations were mourning his arrest. “You’re not 
included,” sighed the jailer. Nonsense, we decided, in the cell: 
just an illiterate jailer. 

There was also a young man from Kiev in the cell, Valentin. 
I can’t remember his family name. He had big eyes that were 
beautiful in a feminine way, and he was terrified by the interroga¬ 
tion. There is no doubt that he had the gift of precognition—^per¬ 
haps only in his then current state of excitement. More than once, 
he went around the cell in the morning and pointed: Today they 
are going to come for you and you. I saw it in my dream. And 
they came and got them . .. the very individuals he had pointed 
out. One might add that a prisoner’s heart is so inclined toward 
mysticism that he accepts precognition almost without surprise. 

On July 27 Valentin came up to me: “Aleksandr! Today it is 
our turn.” And he told me a dream that had all the characteristics 
of prison dreams: a bridge across a muddy stream, a cross. I 
began to get my things together. And it was not for nothing 
either. He and I were summoned after morning tea. Our cellmates 
saw us off with noisy good wishes, and many of them assured us 
we were going off to freedom. They had figured it out by compar¬ 
ing our less serious cases. 

Perhaps you honestly don’t believe it. Perhaps you won’t allow 
yoiurself to believe. You can try to brush it aside with jokes. But 
flaming pincers, hotter than anything else on earth, suddenly close 
around your heart. They just do. Suppose it’s true? 

They assembled twenty of us from various cells and took us to 
the baths first. Before every big change in his life, the prisoner 
has first of all to take a bath. We had time enough there, an hour 
and a half, to exchange our hunches and ideas. At that point, all 
steamed up, our skins tender, we were taken through the little 
emerald park in the Butyrki’s interior courtyard, where the birds 
sang deafeningly, although they were probably only sparrows, 
and the green of the trees seemed unbearably bright to eyes no 
longer used to it. Never had my eyes seen the green of the leaves 

That Spring \ 275 

with such intensity as they did that spring! And never in my life 
had I seen anything closer to God’s paradise than that httle 
Butyrki park, which never took more than thirty seconds to 
cross on the asphalt path.^® 

They took us to the Butyrki station —a very well-chosen nick¬ 
name for that reception and dispatch point, especially because its 
main hall was really like a good railroad station. They pushed 
us into a large, spacious box. It was half-dark inside and the air 
was clean and fresh, since its one and only little window was very 
high up and had no “muzzle.” And it opened on that same sunny 
httle park, and through the transom the birds’ twitter deafened 
us, and in the opening a httle bright-green twig hung, promising 
us all freedom and home. (We had never been imprisoned in such 
a good box—and that couldn’t be a matter of chance!) 

And we were all cases for the OSO’s—the Special Boards at¬ 
tached to the GPU-NKVD. And it turned out that each of us had 
been imprisoned for nothing much. 

No one touched us for three hours. No one opened the doors. 
We paced up and down the box and, finaUy, tired out, we sat 
down on the slab benches. And the httle twig kept bobbing and 
bobbing outside the opening, and the sparrows screamed as if 
they were possessed. 

Suddenly the door crashed open, and one of us was summoned, 
a quiet bookkeeper, thirty-five years old. He went out. The door 
was locked. We started running about our box even more agi¬ 
tatedly than before. We were on hot coals. 

Once more the crash of the door. They called another one 
out and readmitted the first. We rushed to him. But he was not 
the same man! The life had gone out of his face. His wide-open 
eyes were unseeing. His movements were uncertain as he stum¬ 
bled across the smooth fioor of the box. Was he in a state of 
shock? Had they swatted him with an ironing board? 

‘Well? WeU?” we asked him, with sinking hearts. (If he had 
not in fact just gotten up from the electric chair, he must at the 

19. Many years later, this time as a tourist, I saw another, similar park, 
except that it was even smaller, in the Trubetskoi bastion of the Peter and 
Paul Fortress in Leningrad. The other tourists exclaimed over the darkness of 
the corridors and cells, but I kept thinking to myself that with such a park to 
walk in, the prisoners of the Trubetskoi bastion were not lost men. We were 
taken out to walk only in deathly cell-like stone enclosures. 


very least have been given a death sentence.) And in the voice of 
one reporting the end of the universe, the bookkeeper managed to 
blurt out: 

“Five . .. years!” 

And once more the door crashed. That was how quickly they 
returned, as if they were only being taken to the toilet to urinate. 
The second man returned, all aglow. Evidently he was being re¬ 

“Well, well, come on?” We swarmed around him, our hopes 
rising again. He waved his hand, choking with laughter. 

“Fifteen years!” 

It was just too absurd to be believed. 

Chapter 7 

In the Engine Room 

The box adjacent to the so-called Butyrki “station” was the 
famous frisking box, where new arrivals were searched. It had 
space enough for five or six jailers to process up to twenty zeks 
in one batch. Now, however, it was empty and the rough-hewn 
search tables had nothing on them. Over at one side of the room, 
seated behind a small nondescript table beneath a small lamp, 
was a neat, black-haired NKVD major. Patient boredom was 
what his face chiefly revealed. The intervals during which the zeks 
were brought in and led out one by one were a waste of his time. 
Their signatures could have been collected much, much faster. 

He indicated that I was to sit down on the stool opposite him, 
on the other side of his table. He asked my name. To Ae right and 
left of the inkwell lay two piles of white papers the size of a half¬ 
sheet of typewriter paper, all looking much the same. In format 
they were just like the fuel requisitions handed out in apartment- 
house management offices, or warrants in official institutions for 
purchase of office supplies. Leafing through the pile on the right, 
the major found the paper which referred to me. He pulled it out 
and read it aloud to me in a bored patter. (I understood I had 
been sentenced to eight years.) Immediately, he began to write a 
statement on the back of it, with a fountain pen, to the effect that 
the text had been read to me on the particular date. 

My heart didn’t give an extra half-beat—^it was all so everyday 
and routine. Could this really be my sentence—the turning point 



in my life? I would have liked to feel nervous, to experience this 
moment to the full, but I just couldn’t. And the major had al¬ 
ready pushed the sheet over to me, the blank side facing up. 
And a schoolchild’s seven-kopeck pen, with a bad point that had 
lint on it from the inkwell, lay there in front of me. 

“No, I have to read it myself.” 

“Do you really think I would deceive you?” the major objected 
lazily. “Well, go ahead, read it.” 

Unwillingly, he let the paper out of his hand. I turned it over 
and began to look through it with deliberate slowness, not just 
word by word but letter by letter. It had been typed, but what I 
had in front of me was not the original but a carbon: 


from a decree of the OSO of the NKVD of the U.S.S.R. 
of July 7, 1945,1 Nq.-. 

All of this was underscored with a dotted line and the sheet was 
vertically divided with a dotted line; 

Case heard: . Decreed; 

Accusation of so-and-so . To designate for so-and-so (name) 

(name, year of birth, . for anti-Soviet propaganda, and for 

place of birth) . an attempt to create an anti-Soviet 

organization, 8 (eight) years in 
corrective labor camps. 

Copy verified. Secretary_ 

Was I really just supposed to sign and leave in silence? I looked 
at the major—to see whether he intended to say something to me, 
whether he might not provide some clarification. No, he had no 
such intention. He had already nodded to the jailer at the door to 
get the next prisoner ready. 

To give the moment at least a little importance, I asked him, 
with a tragic expression: “But, really, this is terrible! Eight years! 
What for?” 

And I could hear how false my own words sounded. Neither he 
nor I detected anything terrible. 

“Right there.” The major showed me once again where to sign. 

I signed. I could simply not think of an)rthing else to do. 

1. They had met to sentence me on the very day of the amnesty. The work 
must go on. . . . 

In the En^ne Room \ 279 

“In that case, allow me to write an appeal right here. After all, 
the sentence is unjust.” 

“As provided by regulations,” the major assented with a nod, 
placing my sheet of paper on the left-hand pile. 

“Let’s move along,” commanded the jailer. 

And I moved along. 

(I had not really shown much initiative. Georgi Tenno, who, 
to be sure, had been handed a paper worth twenty-five years, 
answered: “After all, this is a life sentence. In olden times they 
used to beat the drums and assemble a crowd when a person was 
given a life sentence. And here it’s like being on a list for a soap 
ration—twenty-five years and run along!” 

Arnold Rappoport took the pen and wrote on the back of the 
verdict: “I protest categorically this terroristic, illegal sentence 
and demand immediate release.” The officer who had handed it 
to him had at first waited patiently, but when he read what Rap¬ 
poport had written, he was enraged and tore up the paper with the 
note on it. So what! The term remained in force anyway. This was 
just a copy. 

Vera Korneyeva was expecting fifteen years and she saw with 
delight that there was a typo on the official sheet—^it read only 
five. She laughed her luminous laugh and hurried to sign before 
they took it back. The officer looked at her dubiously: “Do you 
really understand what I read to you?” “Yes, yes, thank you 
very much. Five years in corrective-labor camps.” 

The ten-year sentence of Janos Rozsas, a Hungarian, was read 
to him in the corridor in Russian, without any translation. He 
signed it, not knowing it was his sentence, and he waited a long 
time afterward for his trial. Still later, when he was in camp, he 
recalled the incident very vaguely and realized what had hap¬ 

I returned to the box with a smile. It was strange. Each minute 
I became jollier and more relieved. Everyone was returning with 
“ten-ruble bills,” including Valentin. The lightest term in our 
group that day had been given the bookkeeper who had gone out 
of his mind. He was still, in fact, beside himself. And the lightest 
term after his was mine. 

In the splashes of sun and the July breeze, the little twig out¬ 
side the window continued to bob up and down as gaily as before. 
We chattered boisterously. Here and there, more and more fre- 


quetftly, laughter resounded in the box. We were laughing be¬ 
cause eveiything had gone off so smoothly. We were laughing 
at the shocked bookkeeper. We were laughing at our morning 
hopes and at the way our cellmates had seen us off and arranged 
secret signals with us to be transmitted via food parcels—^four 
potatoes or two bagels! 

“Well, anyway, there is going to be an amnesty!” several af¬ 
firmed. “All this is just for form’s sake and it doesn’t mean any¬ 
thing. They want to give us a good scare so we’ll keep in line. 
Stalin told an American correspondent—” 

“What was his name?” 

“I don’t remember his name.” 

So they ordered us to take our things, formed us up by twos, 
and led us once again through that same marvelous little park 
filled with summer. And where did they take us? Once again to 
the baths. 

And, oh, what a peal of laughter that got! My God, what silly 
nincompoops! Still roaring, we undressed, hung our duds on the 
same troUey hooks and rolled them into the same roaster they’d 
already been rolled into that very morning. Roaring, each of us 
took a small sliver of repulsive soap and went into the spacious, 
resonant shower room to wash off our girlish gaiety. We splashed 
about in there, pouring hot clean water on ourselves, and we got 
to romping about as if we were school kids who had come to the 
baths after their last exam. This cleansing, relieving laughter 
was, I think, not really sick but a living defense for the salvation 
of the organism. 

As we dried ourselves off, Valentin said to me, reassuringly, 
intimately: “Well, all right. We are still young. We are going to 
live a long time yet. The main thing is not to make a misstep now. 
We are going to a camp—and we’ll not say one word to anyone, 
so they won’t plaster new terms on us. We will work honestly — 
and keep our mouths shut.” 

And he really believed in his program, that naive little kernel 
of grain caught between Stalin’s millstones! He really had his 
hopes set on it. One wanted to agree with him, to serve out the 
term cozily, and then expunge from one’s head what one had 
lived through. 

But I had begun to sense a truth inside myself: if in order to 
live it is necessary not to live, then what’s it all for? 

In the Enffne Room | 281 

One cannot really say that the OSO had been conceived after the 
Revolution. Catherine the Great had sentenced the journalist 
Novikov, whom she disliked, to fifteen years on, one might say, 
an OSO basis, since she didn’t turn him over to a court. And all 
the Tsars once in a while, in a fatherly way, exiled without any 
trial those who had incurred their displeasure. In the 1860’s, a 
basic court reform took place. It seemed as if rulers and subjects 
had both begun to develop something like a juridical view of 
society. And yet in the seventies and eighties Korolenko tracked 
down cases where administrative repressicm had usurped the role 
of judicial judgment. In 1872, he himself and two o&er students 
were exiled without trial, on the orders of the Deputy Minister of 
State Properties—a typical case of an OSO. Another time, he and 
his brother were exiled without trial to Glazov. Korolenko has 
also given us the name of one Fyodor Bogdan, an emissary from 
the peasants—a khodok—^who got right up to the Tsar himself 
and was then exiled. And of Pyankov, too, who was acquitted 
by a court and yet exiled by order of the Tsar. And there were 
several others as well. And Vera Zasulich explained in a letter 
sent after she emigrated that she had not run away from the 
•court .and a .trial but from nonjudicial administrative repres¬ 

Thus the tradition of the “dbtted line”—^the administratively 
issued sentence—dragged on. But it was too lax; it was suitable 
for a drowsy Asiatic country, but not for a country that was 
rapidly advancing, , ,, Moreover, it lacked any definite identity; 
who was the OSO? Sometimes it was the Tsar, sometimes the 
governor, sometimes the deputy mini ster. And if it was still 
possible to enumerate names and cases, this was not, begging 
your pardon, real scope. 

Real scope entered the picture with the twenties, when per¬ 
manently operating Troikas —^panels of three, operating behind 
closed doors—^were created to bypass the courts permanently. 
In the beginning they even flaunted it proudly —the Troika of the 
GPU. Not only did they not conceal the names of the members; 
they publicized them. Who on the Solovetsky Islands did not 
know the names of the famous Moscow Troika—Gleb Boky, 


Vul, and Vasilyev? Yes, and what a word it was, in fact— 
troika! It bore a slight hint of sleigh bells on the shaft bow; the 
celebration of Shrovetide; and, interwoven with all this, a 
mystery. Why “troika”? What did it mean? After all, a court 
wasn’t a quartet either! And a Troika wasn’t a court! And the 
biggest mystery of all lay in the fact that it was kept out of sight. 
We hadn’t been there. We hadn’t seen it. All we got was a piece 
of paper. Sign here! The Troika was even more frightening than 
a Revolutionary Tribunal. It set itself even farther apart, muffled 
itself up, locked itself in a separate room, and—soon—concealed 
the names of its members. Thus we grew used to the idea that the 
Troika members didn’t eat or drink or move about among 
ordinary people. Once they had isolated themselves in order to 
go into session, they were shut off for good, and all we knew of 
them were the sentences handed out through typists. (And they 
had to be returned too. Such documents couldn’t be left in the 
hands of individuals!) 

These Troikas (we use the plural just in case, because—as 
with a deity—we never know where or in what form it exists) 
satisfied a persistent need that had arisen: never to allow those 
arrested to return to freedom (This was like an OTK—a De¬ 
partment for Quality Control in industry—^but in this case it was 
attached to the GPU—to prevent any spoiled goods.) If it turned 
out that someone was innocent and could therefore not be tried 
at all, then let him have his “minus 32” via the Troika—^which 
meant he couldn’t live in any of the provincial capitals—or let 
him spend two or three years in exile, after which he would have 
a convict’s clipped ear, would always be a marked man, and, from 
then on, a recidivist. 

(Please forgive us, reader. We have once more gone astray with 
this rightist opportunism—this concept of “guilt,” and of the 
guilty or innocent. It has, after all, been explained to us that the 
heart of the matter is not personal guilt, but social danger. One 
can imprison an innocent person if he is socially hostile. And one 
can release a guilty man if he is socially friendly. But lacking legal 
training, we can be forgiven, for the 1926 Code, according to 
which, my good fellow, we lived for twenty-five years and more, 
was itself criticized for an “impermissible bourgeois approach,” 
for an “insufficiently class-conscious approach,” and for some 

In the Engine Room \ 283 

kind of “bourgeois weighing of punishments in relation to the 
gravity of what had been committed.”)* 

Alas, it is not for us to write the absorbing history of this 
particular Organ: how the Troikas turned into OSO’s; or when 
they got renamed; or whether there were OSO’s in provincial cen¬ 
ters, or just one of them in the Great Palace; or which of our 
great and proud leaders were members; or how often they met and 
how long their sessions lasted; whether or not they were served 
tea while they worked, and if they were, what was served with 
the tea; and how the work itself proceeded—did they converse 
while it was going on or not? We are not the ones who will write 
this history—^because we don’t know. All that we have heard 
is that the essence of the OSO was triune. And even though it is 
still impossible to name its industrious members, yet we do know 
the three organs permanently represented there: one member 
represented the Central Committee of the Party, one the MVD, 
and one the Chief Prosecutor’s office. However, it would not be 
a miracle if we should learn someday that there were never any 
sessions, and that there was only a staff of experienced typists 
composing extracts from nonexistent records of proceedings, and 
one general administrator who directed the typists. As for typists, 
there were certainly typists. That we can guarantee. 

Up to 1924, the authority of the Troika was limited to sen¬ 
tences of three years, maximum. From 1924 on, they moved up 
to five years of camp; from 1937 on, the OSO could turn out “ten- 
ruble bills”; after 1948, they could rivet a “quarter”—^twenty- 
five years—on you. And there are people—Chavdarov, for 
example—^who know that during the war years the OSO even 
sentenced prisoners to execution by shooting. Nothing unusual 
about this. 

The OSO was nowhere mentioned in either the Constitution 
or the Code. However, it turned out to be the most convenient 
kind of hamburger machine—easy to operate, undemanding, and 
requiring no legal lubrication. The Code existed on its own, and 
the OSO existed on its own, and it kept on deftly grinding without 
all the Code’s 205 articles, neither invoking them nor even men¬ 
tioning them. 

2 . Vyshinsky, Ot Tyurem k Vospitatelnym Uchrezhdeniyam. 


As they used to joke in camp: “There is no court for nothing 
—for that there is an OSO.” 

Of course, the OSO itself also needed for convenience some 
kind of operational shorthand, but for that purpose it worked 
out on its own a dozen “letter” articles which made operations 
very much simpler. It wasn’t necessary, when they were used, to 
cudgel your brains trying to make things fit the formulations of 
the Code. And they were few enough to be easily remembered by 
a chUd. Some of them we have already described: 

ASA —Anti-Soviet Agitation 
KRD —Counter-Revolutionary Activity 
KRTD—Counter-Revolutionary Trotskyite Activity (And that 
“T” made the life of a zek in camp much harder. ) 
PSh —Suspicion of Espionage (Espionage that went beyond 
the bounds of suspicion was handed over to a tri¬ 

SVPSh—Contacts Leading (!) to Suspicion of Espionage 

KRM —Counter-Revolutionary Thought 

VAS —Dissemination of Anti-Soviet Sentiments 

SOE —Socially Dangerous Element 

SVE —Socially Harmful Element 

PD —Criminal Activity (a favorite accusation against 

former camp inmates if there was nothing else to be 
used against them) 

And then, finally, there was the very expansive category: 

ChS —^Member of a Family (of a person convicted under 
one of the foregoing “letter” categories) 

It has to be remembered that these categories were not applied 
uniformly and equally among different groups and in different 
years. But, as with the articles of the Code and the sections in 
special decrees, they broke out in sudden epidemics. 

There is one more qualification. The OSO did not claim to be 
handing down a sentence. It did not sentence a person but, in¬ 
stead, imposed an administrative penalty. And that was the whole 
thing in a nutshell. Therefore it was, of course, natural for it to 
have juridical independence! 

But even though they did not claim that the administrative 


In the Engine Room 

penalty was a court sentence, it could be up to twenty-five years 
and include: 

• Deprivation of titles, ranks, and decorations 

• Confiscation of all property 

• Imprisonment 

• Deprivation of the right to correspond 

Thus a person could disappear from the face of the earth with 
the help of the OSO even more reliably than under the terms 
of some primitive coiurt sentence. 

The OSO enjoyed another important advantage in that its 
penalty could not be appealed. There was nowhere to appeal to. 
There was no appeals jurisdiction above it, and no jurisdiction 
beneath it. It was subordinate only to the Minister of Internal 
Affairs, to Stalin, and to Satan. 

Another big advantage the OSO had was speed. This speed 
was limited only by the technology of typewriting. 

And, last but not least, not only did the OSO not have to con¬ 
front the accused face to face, which lessened the burden on inter¬ 
prison transport: it didn’t even have to have his photograph. At 
a time when the prisons were badly overcrowded, this was a great 
additional advantage because the prisoner did not have to take 
up space on the prison floor, or eat free bread once his interroga¬ 
tion had been completed. He could be sent off to camp imme¬ 
diately and put to honest work. The copy of the sentence could be 
read to him much later. 

It used to be that in favorable conditions the prisoners were 
unloaded from freight cars at their destinations. And they were 
made to kneel down right there, next to the tracks—as a pre¬ 
caution against attempted escape. But it looked as if they were 
praying to the OSO. And then and there their sentences were 
read out to them. It could also happen differently. In 1938 
those who arrived at Perebory on prisoner transports did not 
know either their Code articles or their sentences, but the clerk 
who met them knew, and he looked them up on the list: SVE— 
Socially Harmful Element—five years. That was during the time 
when there was an urgent need for many hands to work on the 
Moscow-Volga Canal. 


Others worked in the camps for months without knowing their 
sentences. After this, as I. Dobryak reported, they were solemnly 
lined up—and not just on any old day, but on May 1,1938, when 
the red flags were %ing—and the Stalino Province Troika’s sen¬ 
tences were announced. (This would indicate that the OSO did 
get decentralized in times of heavy load.) These sentences were 
from ten to twenty years apiece. And in that same year, my former 
camp foreman, Sinebryu^ov, was sent off with a whole train¬ 
load of unsentenced prisoners from Chelyabinsk to Cherepovets. 
Months passed and the zeks worked away. And then one rest day 
in winter (Note the days? Another advantage of the OSO), when 
the frost was cracking, they were driven out into the courtyard 
and lined up. A newly arrived lieutenant appeared and introduced 
himself as having come to inform them of their OSO penalties. 
But he turned out to be a decent sort because he squinted at 
their thin footwear and at the sun’s rays in the steaming frost and 

“Well anyway, men, why should you freeze out here? The OSO 
gave you all ten years apiece. There are just a very, very few who 
got eight. You understand? Disssperse!” 

But in view of the frankly mechanical operation of the Special 
Board, why have any courts at all? Why use a horsecar when 
there’s a noiseless modem streetcar available, which no one can 
jump out of? Is it a matter of keeping the judges well fed? 

Still, it is really quite indecent for a democratic state not to 
have courts. In 1919, the Eighth Congress of the Party proclaimed 
in its program: Efforts must be made to involve all the working 
population in the exercise of judicial duties. It did not prove 
possible to involve “all” the working population. Conducting a 
trial is a delicate business. But there was no question of getting 
along entirely without courts. 

However, our political courts—^the special collegia of provincial 
courts, the military tribunals (and why, actually, should there be 
military tribunals in peacetime anyway?), and all the supreme 
courts too—^unanimously followed the path of the OSO. They, 
too, did not get stuck in the mud of public trials or in arguments 
between sides. 

In the Engine Room \ 287 

Their primary and principal distinguishing feature was closed 
doors. They were first of all closed courts —for their own con¬ 

And by now we have become so accustomed to the fact that 
millions and millions of people were tried in closed sessions and 
have become used to this for so long tt^at now and then some 
mixed-up son, brother, or nephew of a prisoner will even snort at 
you with.conviction: “And what would you have wanted? . . . 
There’s information here. Our enemies will find out! You can’t 
do it!” 

Thus the fear that our “enemies will find out” makes us clamp 
our head between our own knees. Who in our Fatherland, except 
some bookworms, remembers now that Karakozov, who fired at 
the Tsar, was provided with a defense lawyer? Or that Zhelyabov 
and all the Narodnaya Volya group were tried in public, without 
any fear that the “Turks would find out”? Or that Vera Zasulich, 
who attempted to kill the ofiicial who was, translated into Soviet 
terms, the Chief of the Moscow Administration of the MVD— 
although she missed, and the bullet went past his head—^not only 
was not destroyed in a torture chamber but was acquitted in 
open court by a jury—no Troika—and then went off in triumph 
in a carriage? 

Despite these comparisons, I do not at all mean to say that a 
perfect system of courts and justice ever existed in Russia. In all 
probability, an excellent judicial system is the last fruit of the most 
mature society, or else one needs a Solomon. Vladimir Dal notes 
that in the period before the emancipation of the serfs Russia had 
“not one single proverb containing any praise of the courts.” And 
that really means something. It seems likely that they never had 
time to get around to making up a proverb praising the zemstvo 
chiefs either. But, nevertheless, the judicial reform of 1864 at 
least set the urban sector of our society on the road toward those 
English models which Herzen praised so highly. 

Saying all this, I still have not forgotten what Dostoyevsky had 
to say in his Diary of a Writer against our trials by jury: about the 
excesses of some lawyers’ eloquence (“Gentlemen of the jury! 
What kind of woman would she have been if she had not stabb^ 
her rival? Gentlemen of the jury! Who among you would not have 
thrown the child out of the window?”); and the risk that a juror’s 
momentary impulse might outweigh his civic responsibility. But 


Spiritually Dostoyevsky far outstripped the realities of our life, 
and he worried about what he shouldn’t have worried about! He 
believed that we had achieved open trials once and for all! (In¬ 
deed, who among his contemporaries could have believed in the 
OSO?) And somewhere else he writes: “It is better to err on the 
side of mercy than on that of the death penalty.” Oh, yes, yes, 

Excesses of eloquence do not aflSict exclusively a judicial sys¬ 
tem in process of being established; even more conspicuously, 
they afflict an already established democracy that has not yet dis¬ 
covered its moral goals. England again gives us examples, as 
when, for partisan advantage, the leader of the opposition does 
not hesitate to blame the government for a national predicament 
worse than actually exists. 

Excesses of eloquence are a malady. But what word can we 
then use for the excessive use of closed doors? Dostoyevsky 
dreamed of a court in which everything essential to the defense 
of the accused would be set forth by the prosecutor. How many 
aeons will we have to wait for that? Our social experience has so 
far enriched us immeasurably with defense lawyers who accuse 
the defendant. (“As an honest Soviet person, as a true patriot, 
I cannot but feel repugnance at the disclosure of these evU 

And how comfortable it all is for the judges in a closed session! 
Judicial robes are not required and one can even roll up one’s 
sleeves. How easy it is to work! There are no public-address sys¬ 
tems, no newspapermen, and no public. (Well, there is a public, 
an audience, but it consists of interrogators. For example, they 
used to attend the Leningrad Province Court during the day to 
find out how their “prot6g6s” were conducting themselves, and 
at night went calling on those prisoners who needed to have their 
consciences appealed to.y 

The second main characteristic of our political courts is the 
lack of ambiguity in their work, which is to say predetermined 
verdicts.^ In other words, you, a judge, always know what the 

3. Ch- ^n’s group. 

4. That same collection edited by A. Y. Vyshinsky, Ot Tyurem k Vospita- 
telnym Uchrezhdeniyam, includes materials indicating that the predetermination 
of verdicts is an old, old story. In 1924-1929, sentences were determined by 
joint administrative and economic considerations. Beginning in 1924, because of 

In the Engine Room \ 289 

higher-ups expect of you (furthermore there’s a telephone if you 
still have any doubts). And, following the example of the OSO’s, 
sentences might even be typed out ahead of time, with only the 
prisoner’s name to be added later, by hand. And in 1942 Stra- 
khovich cried out during a session of the military tribunal of the 
Leningrad Military District: “But I could not have been recruited 
by Ignatovsky when I was only ten years old!” But the presiding 
judge barked back: “Don’t slander the Soviet intelligence serv¬ 
ice!” The whole thing had been predetermined long before: each 
and every one of the Ignatovsky group was to be sentenced to be 
shot. Some man named Lipov got included in the group, but no 
one from the group knew him and he knew none of them either. 
Well, so, all right, Lipov got ten years. 

How hugely the predetermination of sentences contributed to 
easing the thorny life of a judge. It wasn’t so much a mental relief, 
in the sense that one didn’t have to think, as it was a moral relief. 
You didn’t have to torture yourself with worry that you might 
make a mistake in a sentence and make orphans out of your own 
little children. And the predetermination of sentences could dis¬ 
pose even so immovable a judge as Ulrikh to good humor. (And 
what major execution had he not pronounced?) In 1945, the Mili¬ 
tary Collegium was hearing the case of the “Estonian separatists.” 
Short, stocky, good-humored Ulrikh was presiding. He didn’t pass 
up a single opportunity to joke not only with his colleagues but 
also with the prisoners. (After all, that’s what humaneness is! A 
new trait—^where had it ever been seen?) Having learned that 
Susi was a lawyer, he said to him with a smile: “Well, so now 
your profession can be of some use to you!” Well, there is no need 
to quarrel. Why be embittered? The court routine proceeded 
pleasantly. They smoked right at the judge’s table, and at a con- 

national unemployment, the courts reduced the number of verdicts which sen¬ 
tenced prisoners to corrective labor while they continued to live at home and 
increased short-term prison sentences. These cases involved only nonpolitical 
offenders, of course. As a result, prisons were overcrowded with short-termers 
serving sentences of up to six months, and not enough use was being made of 
them in labor colonies. At the beginning of 1929, the People’s Commissariat of 
Justice of the U.S.S.R., in Circular No. 5, condemned short-term sentences and, 
on November 6, 1929, the eve of the twelfth anniversary of the October Revolu¬ 
tion, when the country was supposedly entering on the construction of socialism, 
a decree of the Central Executive Committee and the Council of People’s Com¬ 
missars simply forbade all sentences of less than one year! 


venient moment broke off for a good lunch. And when evening be¬ 
gan to fall, they had to go and confer. But who confers at night? 
They left the prisoners to sit at their desks all night long and 
went on home. At nine in the morning they came in all brisk 
and freshly shaved: “Rise. The court is in session.” And all the 
prisoners were given a “ten-ruble bill” apiece. 

And if anyone should object that the OSO at least proceeded 
without hypocrisy, whereas there was hypocrisy in instances like 
the above—they pretended to be conferring but didn’t really con¬ 
fer—^we would certainly have to enter a strong—very strong— 

Well, the third and final characteristic is dialectics. (Which 
used to be crudely described in the folk saying: “Whichever way 
you point a wagon tongue, that’s the way it goes.”) The Code 
cannot be a dead weight in the path of the judge. The articles of 
the Code had been around during ten, fifteen, twenty years of 
rapid change, and, just as Faust said: 

The whole world changes and everything moves forward. 

And why should I be afraid to break my word? 

All the articles of the Code had become encrusted with inter¬ 
pretations, directions, instructions. And if the actions of the 
accused are not covered by the Code, he can still be convicted: 

• By analogy (What opportunities!) 

• Simply because of origins (7-35: belonging to a socially 
dangerous milieu)® 

• For contacts with dangerous person^ (Here’s scope for 
you! Who is “dangerous” and what “contacts” consist of 
only the judge can say.) 

But one should not complain about the precise wording of our 
published laws either. On January 13, 1950, a decree was issued 
re-establishing capital punishment. (One is bound, of course, to 

5. In the Republic of South Africa, terror has gone to such lengths in recent 
years that every suspicious (SDE—Socially Dangerous Element) black can be 
arrested and held for three months without investigation or trial. Anyone can 
see immediately the flimsiness of this: why not from three to ten years? 

6. This is something we hadn’t known, something the newspaper Izvestiya 
told us in July, 1957. 

In the Engine Room | 291 

consider that capital punishment never did depart from Beria’s 
cellars.) And the decree stated that the death sentence could be 
imposed on subversives —diversionists. What did that mean? It 
didn’t say. Iosif Vissarionovich loved it that way: not to say all of 
it, just to hint. Did it refer only to someone who blew up rails 
with TNT? It didn’t say. We had long since come to know what 
a “diversionist” was: someone who produced goods of poor qual¬ 
ity was a diversionist. But what was a subversive? Was someone 
subverting the authority of the government, for example, in a con¬ 
versation on a streetcar? Or if a girl married a foreigner—wasn’t 
she subverting the majesty of our Motherland? 

But it is not the judge who judges. The judge only takes his 
pay. The directives did the judging. The directive of 1937: ten 
years; twenty years; execution by shooting. The directive of 1943: 
twenty years at hard labor; hanging. The directive of 1945: ten 
years for everyone, plus five of disenfranchisement (manpower 
for three Five-Year Plans). The directive of 1949: everyone gets 

The machine stamped out the sentences. The prisoner had 
already been deprived of aU rights when they cut off his buttons 
on the threshold of State Security, and he couldn’t avoid a stretch. 
The members of the legal profession were so used to this that 
they fell on their faces in 1958 and caused a big scandal. The 
text of the projected new “Fimdamental Principles of Criminal 
Prosecution of the U.S.S.R.” was published in the newspapers, 
and they’d forgotten to include any reference to possible grounds 
for acquittal. The government newspaper issued a mild rebuke: 
“The impression might be created that our courts only bring in 

But just take the jurists’ side for a moment: why, in fact, should 
a trial be supposed to have two possible outcomes when our 
general elections are conducted on the basis of one candidate? An 
acquittal is, in fact, unthinkable from the economic point of view! 
It would mean that the informers, the Security officers, the inter- 

7. Babayev, in fact a nonpolitical, shouted at them: “You can * muzzle* me 
for three hundred years! But Fll never lift my hand for you, you benefactors!” 

8. Thus it was that a real spy (Schultz, in Berlin, in 1948) could get ten 
years, and someone who had never been a spy, Gunther Waschkau, got twenty- 
five. Because he was in the wave of 1949. 

9. Izvestiya, September 10, 1958. 


rogators, the prosecutor’s staff, the internal guard in the prison, 
and the convoy had all worked to no purpose. 

Here is one straightforward and typical case that was brought 
before a military tribunal. In 1941, the Security operations branch 
of our inactive army stationed in Mongolia was called on to show 
its activity and vigilance. The military medical assistant Lozovsky, 
who was jealous of Lieutenant Pavel Chulpenyev because of some 
woman, realized this. He addressed three questions to Chulpenyev 
when they were alone: 1. “Why, in your opinion, are we retreating 
from the Germans?” (Chulpenyev’s reply: “They have more 
equipment and they were mobilized earlier.” Lozovsky’s counter: 
“No, it’s a maneuver. We’re decoying them.”) 2. “Do you believe 
the Allies will help?” (Chulpenyev: “I believe they’ll help, but 
not from unselfish motives.” Lxjzovsky’s counter: “They are 
deceiving us. They won’t help us at all.”) 3. “Why was Voroshilov 
sent to command the Northwest Front?” 

Chulpenyev answered and forgot about them. And Lozovsky 
wrote a denunciation. Chulpenyev waS summoned before the 
Political Branch of the division and expelled from the Komsomol: 
for a defeatist attitude, for praising German equipment, for be¬ 
littling the strategy of our High Command. The loudest voice 
raised against him belonged to the Komsomol organizer Kalyagin, 
who had behaved like a coward at the battle of Khalkhin-Gol, in 
Chulpenyev’s presence, and therefore found it convenient to get 
rid of the witness once and for all. 

Chulpenyev’s arrest followed. He had one confrontation with 
Lozovsky. Their previous conversation was not even brought up 
by the interrogator. One question was asked: “Do you know this 
man?” “Yes.” “Witness, you may leave.” (The interrogator was 
afraid the charge might fall through.)^® 

Depressed by his month’s incarceration in the sort of hole in the 
ground we have already described, Chulpenyev appeared before 
a military tribunal of the 36th Motorized Division. Present were 
Lebedev, the Divisional Political Commissar, and Slesarev, the 
Chief of the Political Branch. The witness Lozovsky was not even 

10. Today Lozovsky holds the degree of candidate in medical sciences and 
lives in Moscow. Everything is going well with him. Chulpenyev drives a trolley 

In the Engine Room | 293 

summoned to testify. However, after the trial, to document the 
false testimony, they got Lozovsky’s signature and that of Political 
Commissar Seryegin. The questions the tribunal asked were: Did 
you have a conversation with Lozovsky? What did he ask you 
about? What were your answers? Naively, Chulpenyev told them. 
He still couldn’t understand what he was guilty of. “After all, 
many people talk like that!” he innocently exclaimed. The tribunal 
was interested: “Who? Give us their names.” But Chulpenyev was 
not of their breed! He had the last word. “I beg the court to give 
me an assignment that will mean my death so as to assure itself 
once more of my patriotism”—and, like a simplehearted warrior 
of old—“Me and the person who slandered me—^both of us to¬ 

Oh, no! Our job is to kill off all those chivalrous sentiments in 
the people. Lozovsky’s duty was to hand out pills and Seryegin’s 
duty was to indoctrinate the soldiers.^^ Whether or not you died 
wasn’t important. What was important was that we were on guard. 
The members of the military tribunal went out, had a smoke and 
returned: ten years plus three years’ disenfranchisement. 

There were certainly more than ten such cases in every division 
during the war. (Otherwise, the military tribunals would not have 
justified the cost of maintaining them.) And how many divisions 
were there in all? Let the reader count them up himself. 

The sessions of the military tribimals were depressingly like one 
another. The judges were depressingly faceless and emotionless 
—^rubber stamps. The sentences all came off the same assembly 

Everyone maintained a serious mien, but everyone understood 
it was a farce, above all the boys of the convoy, who were the 
simplest sort of fellows. At the Novosibirsk Transit Prison in 1945 
they greeted the prisoners with a roll call based on cases. “So and 
so! Article 58-la, twenty-five years.” The chief of the convoy 
guard was curious: “What did you get it for?” “For nothing at 
dl.” “You’re lying. The sentence for nothing at all is ten years.” 

When the military tribunals were under pressure, their “ses¬ 
sions” lasted one minute—^the time it took them to go out and 
come in again. When their working day went on for sixteen con- 

11. Viktor Andreyevich Seryegin lives in Moscow today and works in a 
Consumer Service Combine attached to the Moscow Soviet. He lives well. 


secutive hours, one could see, through the door of the conference 
room, bowls of fruit on a table set with a white tablecloth. If they 
weren’t in a hurry, they enjoyed delivering their sentence “with 
a psychological twist”: .. sentenced to the supreme measure of 
pimishment!” And then a pause. The judges would look the 
condemned man in the eye. It was interesting to see how he took 
it. What was he feeling at that moment? Only then would the 
verdict continue: “. . . but taking into consideration the sincere 
repentance . . .” 

On the walls of the waiting room messages had been scratched 
with nails and scrawled in pencil: “I got execution,” “I got twenty- 
five,” “I got a ‘tenner!’ ” They didn’t clean off these graffiti; they 
served an educational purpose. Be scared; bow down; don’t 
think that you can change anything by your behavior. Even if you 
were to speak in your own defense with the eloquence of Demos¬ 
thenes, in a hall empty except for a handful of interrogators— 
like Olga Sliozberg in 1936, at the Supreme Court—it would 
not help you in the slightest. All you could do would be to increase 
your sentence from ten years to execution. For instance, if you 
were to shout: “You are fascists! I am ashamed to have been a 
member of your Party for several years!” (Nikolai Semyonovich 
Daskal did it in 1937, at the Special Collegium of the Azov- 
Black Sea Province at Maikop, presided over by Kholik.) In 
that situation what they did was fabricate a new case and do you 
in once and for all. 

Chavdarov has described an incident in which the accused 
suddenly repudiated at their trial all the false testimony they had 
given during the interrogation. And what happened? If there 
was any hesitation while glances were exchanged, it lasted no 
more than a few seconds. The prosecutor asked for a recess, 
without explaining why. The interrogators and their tough-boy 
helpers dashed in from the interrogation prison. All the prisoners, 
distributed among separate boxes, were given a good beating 
all over again and promised another after the next recess. The 
recess came to an end. Once again the judges questioned all of 
them—and this time they all confessed. 

Aleksandr Grigoryevich Karetnikov, the Director of the Textile 
Research Institute, provided an example of outstanding astute¬ 
ness. Just before the session of the Military Collegium of the 
Supreme Court was to begin, he sent word through the guard 

In the Engine Room \ 295 

that he wanted to give supplementary testimony. This, of course, 
provoked curiosity. He was received by the prosecutor. Karetnikov 
displayed his infected collarbone, broken by the interrogator 
who had struck him with a stool, and declared: “I signed every¬ 
thing under torture.” By this time the prosecutor was cursing 
himself for having been so greedy to get “supplementary” testi¬ 
mony, but it was too late. Each of them is fearless only as long 
as he is an anonymous cog in the whole machine. But just as 
soon as the responsibility has become personalized, individuaUzed, 
concentrated on him, just as soon as the searchlight is on him, he 
grows pale and realizes that he is nothing and can slip on any 
chance banana peel. So Karetnikov caught the prosecutor, and the 
latter was unwilling to suppress the whole business. The session of 
the Military Collegium began and Karetnikov repeated his state¬ 
ment in front of them. Now there was a case in which the Military 
Collegium went out and really conferred! But the only verdict 
they could have brought in was acquittal, which would have 
meant releasing Karetnikov on the spot. Therefore they brought 
in no verdict at all! 

As if nothing at all had happened, they took Karetnikov back 
to prison, treated his collarbone, and kept him another three 
months. A very polite new interrogator entered the case, who 
wrote out a new warrant for Karetnikov’s arrest. (If the Col¬ 
legium had not twisted things, he might at least have spent those 
three months as a free man.) The interrogator asked the same 
questions as the first interrogator. Karetnikov, sensing freedom 
in the offing, conducted himself staunchly and refused to admit 
any guilt whatever. And what happened next? He got eight years 
from an OSO. 

This example shows well enough the possibilities available to 
the prisoner and the possibilities available to the OSO. It was the 
poet Derzhavin who wrote: 

A partial court is worse than banditry. 

Judges are enemies; there sleeps the law. 

In front of you the citizen’s neck 

Lies stretched out, quiet and without defense. 

But it was a rare thing for such accidents to take place in the 
Military Collegium of the Supreme Court. For that matter, it 
was in general rare for it to rub clear its clouded eyes and take 


a look at any individual little tin soldier of a prisoner. In 1937, 
A.D.R., an electrical engineer, was taken up to the fourth floor, 
running upstairs with a convoy guard on either side of him. (In 
all probability, the elevator was working, but there were so many 
prisoners pouring in and out that the officials and employees 
would not have been able to use the elevator if the prisoners 
had been permitted to.) Meeting a convicted prisoner who had 
just left, they dashed into the court. The MiUtary Collegium was 
in such a hurry they hadn’t sat down yet, and all three members 
remained standing. Catching his breath with difficulty, for he 
had been weakened by his long interrogation, R. blurt^ out his 
full name. They muttered something, exchanged glances, and 
Ulrikh—^the very same, no less—proclaimed; ‘Twenty years!” 
And they dragg^ R. out at a gallop and, at a gallop, dragged in 
the next prisoner. 

It was all like a dream. In February, 1963,1, too, got to climb 
those stairs, but I was courteously accompanied by a colonel who 
was also a Communist Party organizer. And in that room with 
the circular colonnade, in which, they say, the Plenary Sessions 
of the Supreme Court of the U.S.S.R. meet—^with an enormous 
horseshoelike table that had another round table inside it and 
seven antique chairs—^seventy officials of the Military Collegium 
heard me out—^that same Military Collegium which once sen¬ 
tenced Karetnikov, and R. and others and others, and so on and 
so forth. And I said to them: “What a remarkable day this is! 
Although I was first sentenced to camp and then to eternal exile, 
I never before saw a single judge face to face. And now I see all 
of you assembled here together!” (And they, rubbing their eyes 
open, for the first time saw a living zek.) 

But it turned out that it had not been they! Yes. They said 
it had not been they. They assured me that those others were no 
longer present. Some had retired honorably on pensions. A few 
had been removed. (Ulrikh, the outstanding executioner of all, 
had been removed, it turned out, back in Stalin’s time, in 1950, 
for, believe it or not, leniency.) Some of them—there were only 
a few of these—^had even been tried under Khrushchev, and, in 
their role as defendants, they had threatened: “Today you are 
trying us. Tomorrow we will try you. Watch out!” But like all 
the starts made under Khrushchev, this effort, too, which had 

In the Engine Room | 297 

been very active at first, was soon abandoned. He dropped it 
before it got far enough to produce an irreversible change; which 
meant that things were left where they had been. 

On that occasion, several veterans of the bench, all speaking up 
at the same time, gave voice to their recollections, unwittingly 
providing me with material for this chapter. (Oh, if only they 
had imdertaken to remember and to publish! But the years pass; 
another five have gone by; and it has not become any brighter or 
lighter.) They recalled how certain judges, at conferences of their 
judicial colleagues, took pride when they spoke from the rostrum 
of having succeeded in not applying Article 51 of the Criminal 
Code, which specifies those circumstances that extenuate guilt, 
and thus had succeeded in handing down sentences of twenty-five 
years instead of ten. And how the courts had been humiliatingly 
subservient to the Organs. A certain judge was trying a case. A 
Soviet citizen who had returned from the United States had made 
the slanderous statement that there were good automobile roads 
in America—and nothing else. That was all there was to the case. 
The judge ventured to send the case back for further investiga¬ 
tion ior the purpose of getting “genuine anti-Soviet materials”— 
in other words, so that the accused could be beaten and tortured. 
But his praiseworthy intention wasn’t taken into account. The 
angry answer came back: “You mean you don’t trust our 
Organs?” And, in the upshot, the judge was exiled to the post 
of secretary of a military tribunal on Sakhalin! (Under Khru¬ 
shchev, reproof was not so severe; judges who “made mistakes” 
were sent—^where do you think?—^to work as lawyers. The 
prosecutor’s office was just as subservient to the Organs. When, 
in 1942, Ryumin’s ffagrant abuses in the counterintelligence sec¬ 
tion of the Northern Fleet became known, the prosecutor’s office 
did not dare interfere on its own, but only reported respectfully 
to Abakumov that his boys were acting up. Abakumov had good 
reason to consider the Organs the salt of the earth! (This was the 
occasion when he called in Ryumin and promoted him—^to his 
own eventual undoing.) 

There just wasn’t enough time that February day, or they 

12. Izvestiya, June 9, 1964. This throws an interesting light on views of legal 
defense! In 1918, V. I. Lenin demanded that judges who handed down sentences 
that were too lenient be excluded from the Party. 


would have told me ten times as much as they did. But this, too, 
provides food for thought. If both the courts and the prosecutor’s 
oflSce were simply pawns of the-Minister of State Security, then 
maybe there isn’t any need for a separate chapter to describe them. 

They vied with each other in telling me things, and I kept 
looking around me in astonishment. They were people! Real 
people! They were smiling! They were explaining that their 
intentions were of the best. WeU, and what if things turn full 
circle and it is once again up to them to try me? Maybe even in 
that very hall—and they were showing me the main hall. 

Well, so they will convict me. 

Which comes* first—the chicken or the egg? The people or 
the system? 

For several centuries we had a proverb: “Don’t fear the law, 
fear the judge.” 

But, in my opinion, the law has outstripped people, and people 
have lagged behind in cruelty. It is time to reverse the proverb: 
“Don’t fear the judge, fear the law” 

Abakumov’s kind of law, of course. 

They stepped onto the rostrum and talked about Ivan Deniso¬ 
vich. They said happily that the book had eased their consciences 
(that’s what they said . . .). They admitted that the picture I 
painted was decidedly on the bright side, that every one of them 
knew of camps worse than that. (Ah, so they did know?) Of the 
seventy people seated around that horseshoe, several turned out 
to be knowledgeable in literature, even to be readers of Novy 
Mir. They were eager for reform. They spoke forcefully about 
our social ulcers, about our neglect of our rural areas. 

And I sat there and thought: If the first tiny droplet of truth 
has exploded like a psychological bomb, what then will happen in 
our country when whole waterfalls of Truth burst forth? 

And they will burst forth. It has to happen. 

Chapter 8 

The Law as a Child 

We forget everything. What we remember is not what actually 
happened, not history, but merely that hackneyed dotted line 
they have chosen to drive into our memories by incessant ham¬ 

I do not know whether this is a trait common to all mankind, 
but it is certainly a trait of our people. And it is a vexing one. 
It may have its source in goodness, but it is vexing nonetheless. 
It makes us an easy prey for liars. 

Therefore, if they demand that we forget even the public trials, 
we forget them. The proceedings were open and were reported in 
our newspapers, but they didn’t drill a hole in our brains to make 
us remember—^and so we’ve forgotten them. Only things repeated 
on the radio day after day drill holes in the brain. I am not even 
talking about young people, since they, of course, know nothing 
of all this, but about people who were alive at the time of those 
trials. Ask any middle-aged person to enumerate the highly 
publicized open trials. He will remember those of Bukharin and 
Zinoviev. And, knitting his brow, that of the Promparty too. And 
that’s all. There were no other public trials. 

Yet in actual fact they began right after the October Revolu¬ 
tion. In 1918, quantities of them were taking place, in many dif¬ 
ferent tribunals. They were taking place before there were either 
laws or codes, when the judges had to be guided solely by the 
requirements of the revolutionary workers’ and peasants’ power. 
At the same time, they were regarded as blazing their own trail of 



bold legality. Their detailed history will someday be written by 
someone, and it’s not for us even to attempt to include it in our 
present investigation. 

However, we cannot do without a brief review. It is our duty, 
anyway, to probe some of the charred ruins which go all the way 
back to that gentle, misty, rose-colored dawn. 

In those dynamic years, the sabers of war were not rusting 
in their scabbards, nor did the executioners’ revolvers have time 
to grow cold in their holsters. Only later on did the custom de¬ 
velop of hiding executions in cellars under cover of night and of 
shooting the victims in the back of the head. In 1918, the famous 
Ryazan Chekist Stelmakh had those sentenced to death shot in 
the courtyard, during the day, so that prisoners awaiting execu¬ 
tion could watch from the prison windows. 

There was an ofiicial term current then: extrajudicial reprisal 
... not because there weren’t any courts at the time, but because 
there was the Cheka.^ Because it was more efficient. Certainly, 
there were courts, and they tried and convicted and executed 
people, but we need to remember that, parallel to them and inde¬ 
pendently of them, extrajudicial reprisal went on at the same 
time. How can one depict its scale? M. Latsis, in his popular 
review of the Cheka’s activity,^ gives us material for only a year 
and a half (1918 and half of 1919) and for only twenty provinces 
of Central Russia (“The figures presented here are far from com¬ 
plete”^ in part, perhaps, out of modesty): those shot by the 
Cheka (i.e., without trial, bypassing the courts) numbered 8,389 
persons (eight thousand three hundred and eighty-nine) ;* coun¬ 
terrevolutionary organizations uncovered—412 (a fantastic fig¬ 
ure, in view of our inadequate capacity for organization 
throughout our history and also the general isolation of indi¬ 
viduals in those years and the general psychological depression); 
the total of those arrested—87,000® (and this figure smells of 

1. This fledgling whose beak had not yet hardened was warmed and encour¬ 
aged by Trotsky: “Terror is a powerful means of policy and one would have to 
be a hypocrite not to understand this.” And Zinoviev rejoiced too, not yet fore¬ 
seeing his own end: “The letters GPU, like the letters VChK, are the most 
popular in the world.” 

2. Latsis, Dva Goda Borby na Vnutrennom Fronte. 

3. Ibid., p. 74. 

The Law as a Child | 301 

What comparison is available for purposes of evaluation? In 
1907 a group of leftist leaders published a collection of essays 
entitled Against Capital Punishment,^ in which are hsted by 
name all those sentenced to death in Tsarist Russia from 1826 to 
1906. The editors qualify their findings with the statement that 
there were some additional victims, whose names remain un¬ 
known, and that the list is incomplete. (However, it is certainly 
not so incomplete as Latsis’ materials compiled during the Civil 
War.) The list totals 1,397—^from which 233 persons have to be 
deducted because their death sentences were commuted, as do an 
additional 270, who were sentenced in absentia and never caught 
(for the most part Polish rebels who had fled to the West). That 
leaves 894, a figure covering eighty years, which is not even close 
to Latsis’ total for only one and a h^ years, and not including all 
the provinces of Russia either. True, Ae editors of the collection 
cite another presumed statistic of 1,310 for those sentenced to 
death (although perhaps not executed) in 1906 alone, and a total 
of 3,419 for 1826 through 1906. But this, mind you, was right 
in the midst of the notorious Stolypin reaction, a period for which 
an additional figure is available: 950 executions over a period of 
six months.'’' (In fact, the Stolypin military field tribunals were 
in existence for six months all told.) It sounds awful, and yet it 
does not make much of an impression on our hardened nerves: 
even if we multiply by three this figure of 950 for six months, in 
order to compare it with the Latsis figure for eighteen months in 
the postrevolutionary period, we still come up with the fact that 
the terror after the Revolution was at least three times more in¬ 
tense than Stolypin’s. And that was for just twenty provinces and 
excluded courts and tribunals. 

And from November, 1917, on, the courts acted on their own. 
Despite all the difficulties at the time. Guiding Principles of the 
Criminal Law of the R.S.F.S.R. were issued for their use in 1919. 
(We have not read this work, could not obtain it, and know only 
that it included “imprisonment for an indefinite term”—^in other 
words, pending a special order.) 

The courts were of three kinds: the people’s courts, the circuit 
courts, and the Revolutionary Tribunals—^the Revtribunals. 

6. M. N. Gemet (editor), Protiv Smertnoi Kazni (Against Capital Punish- 
ment)j second edition, 1907, pp. 385-423. 

7. The journal Byloye, No. 2/14, February, 1907. 


The people’s courts handled ordinary misdemeanors and non¬ 
political criminal cases. They were not empowered to impose 
death sentences, and, laughable as it seems, the people’s court 
could not, in fact, impose sentences exceeding two years. Up to 
July, 1918, the heritage of the Left SR’s still endured in our ju¬ 
dicial proceedings. Only by special intervention of the govern¬ 
ment and only individually were impermissibly lenient sentences 
raised to twenty years.® From July, 1918, on, the people’s courts 
were given the right to hand down sentences of up to five years. 
And in 1922, when all threats of war had died down, the people’s 
courts got the right to impose sentences of up to ten years and lost 
the right to sentence anyone to less than six months. 

From the beginning, the circuit courts and the Revtribunals 
had the power to impose the death sentence, but they lost it for 
a brief period: the circuit courts in 1920, and the Revtribunals 
in 1921. There were many tiny ups and downs in this period 
which only a historian pursuing adl the details of those years 
would be able to trace. 

Perhaps that historian will seek out the documents and un¬ 
roll for us the scroll of tribunal sentences and also the statistics. 
(Though probably not. Whatever time and events failed to 
destroy was destroyed by persons interested in having such ma¬ 
terial disappear.) We know only that the Revtribunals were not 
asleep. They were handing down sentences right and left. And we 
know, too, that every time a city was captured during the Civil 
War the event was marked not only by gunsmoke in the court¬ 
yards of the Cheka, but also by sleepless sessions of the tribunal. 
And you did not have to be a White officer, a senator, a land- 
owner, a monk, a Cadet, an SR, or an Anarchist in order to get 
your bullet. Soft white uncallused hands alone were sufficient in 
those years. But one can also hazard the guess that in Izhevsk or 
Votkinsk, Yaroslavl or Murom, Kozlov or Tambov, the uprisings 
were very costly as well to those who had callused workers’ hands. 
And if those scrolls—of both the extrajudicial executions and 
those by tribunal—are unrolled for us someday, the most surpris¬ 
ing thing will be the number of ordinary peasants we find on 
them. Because there was no end to the number of peasant up¬ 
risings and revolts from 1918 to 1921, even though they did not 

8. See Part III, Chapter 1. 

The Law as a Child \ 303 

adorn the colored pages of the official History of the Civil War, 
and even though no one photographed them, and no one ffimed 
motion pictures of those furious crowds attacking machine guns 
with clubs, pitchforks, and axes and, later, lined up for execution 
with their arms tied behind their backs —ten for one! The revolt 
in Sapozhok is remembered only in Sapozhok; the one in Pitelino 
only in Pitelino. We learn from Latsis the number of peasant 
rebellions that were suppressed during that same year and a half 
in twenty provinces—344.® (From 1918 on, peasant revolts were 
already being called “kulak” revolts, for how could the peasants 
revolt against the workers’ and peasants’ power! But how then 
could one explain that in every instance it was not just three 
peasant huts that revolted but the whole village? Why did the 
masses of poor peasants not kill the insurgent “kulaks” with those 
same pitchforks and axes, instead of marching with them against 
the machine guns? Latsis claims: “The kulaks compelled the 
rest of the peasants to take part in these revolts by promises, 
slander, and threats.”^® But what could have been more laden 
with promises than the slogans of the Committees of the Poor? 
And what could have been more loaded with threats than the 
machine guns of the Special Purpose Detachments, the CHON? 

And how many wholly random people, completely random, 
whose destruction inevitably accounts for half the casualties of 
every real, shooting revolution, were caught between those mill¬ 

Here is an eyewitness description of a session of the Ryazan 
Revtribunal which met in 1919 to hear the case of the Tolstoyan 
I. Ye-^v. 

With the proclamation of universal and compulsory conscrip¬ 
tion into the Red Army (just one year after the slogans: “Down 
with the war!”; “Stick your bayonets in the ground!”; “Go 
home!”), “54,697 deserters were caught and sent to the front” by 
September, 1919, in Ryazan Province alone.^^ (And how many 

others were shot on the spot as examples?) Ye- v was not a 

deserter at all but a man who simply and openly refused to enter 
military service because of his religious convictions. He was con- 

9. Latsis, op. cit., p .75 

10. Ibid., p. 70. 

11. Ibid., p. 74. 


scripted by main force, but in the barracks he refused to take 
up arms or undergo t rainin g. The enraged Political Commissar of 
the unit turned him over to the Cheka, saying: “He does not 
recognize the Soviet government.” There was an interrogation. 
Three Chekists sat beWnd the desk, each with a Naguan revolver 
in front of him. “We have seen heroes like you before. You’ll be 
on your knees to us in a minute! Either agree to fight immediately, 

or we’ll shoot you!” But Ye-^v was firm. He couldn’t fight. 

He was a believer in free Christianity. And his case was sent to 
the Revtribuml. 

It was an open session, with a hundred spectators in the hall. 
There was a polite elderly defense lawyer.. TTie learned “accuser” 
—^the term “prosecutor” was forbidden until 1922—was Nikol¬ 
sky, another old jurist. One of the members of the Revtribunal — 
a juror—^tried to elicit the views of the accused. (How can 
you, a representative of the working people, share the opinions 
of the aristocrat Count Tdstoi?) But Ae presiding judge in¬ 
terrupted the questioning and refused to permit it to continue. 
There was a quarrel. 

Juror: “You do not want to kill people, and you try to persuade 
others to refrain from killing. But die Whites tegan the war, and 
you are preventing us from defending-ourselves. We will send you 
to Kolchak, and you can preach your nonresistance there!” 

Ye-^v: “I will go wherever you send me.” 

Accuser: “This tribunal is not supposed to concern itself with 
any nondescript criminal actions but only with those which are 
counterrevolutionary. In view of the nature of this crime, I de¬ 
mand that the case be turned over to a people’s court.” 

Presiding Judge: “Ha! Actions! What a pettifogger you are! 
We are guided not by the laws but by our revolutionary con¬ 

Accuser: “I insist that you include my demand in the rec¬ 

Defense Attorney: “I support the accuser. The case should 
be heard in an ordinary court.” 

Presiding Judge: “Tliere’s an old fool for you! Where did they 
manage to find him?” 

Defense Attorney: “I have been a practicing lawyer for forty 
years and this is the first time I have heard such an insult. Enter 
it in the record.” 

The Law as a CMtd \ 305 

Presiding Judge (laughing): “We’ll enter it, we’ll enter it!” 
Laughter in the hall. The court exits in order to confer. The 
sounds of a noisy argument come from the conference room. 
They return with the sentence: to be shot. 

Loud indignation in the hall. 

Accuser: “I protest against the sentence and will complain to 
the Commissariat of Justice!” 

Defense Lawyer: “I join my voice to that of the accuser.” 

Presiding Judge: “Clear the hall!” 

The convoy came and led Ye-^v to jail, saying to him: “If 

everyone was like you, brother, how good it would be! There 
would be no war, and no Whites and no Reds!” They went back 
to their barracks and called a Red Army meeting. It condemned 
the sentence and sent a protest to Moscow. 

In daily expectation of death, Ye-^v waited for thirty-seven 

da)^, while, from the prison window, he watched executions tak¬ 
ing place. They commuted his sentence to fifteen years of strict 

This is an instructive example. Although “revolutionary legal¬ 
ity” won a partial victory, how enonnous an effort it required on 
the part of the presiding judge! How much disorganization, lack 
of (fiscipline, lack of political consciousness there still was! The 
prosecution stood firmly with the defense. The convoy guards 
stuck their noses into something that wasn’t their business in 
order to send off a protest. Whew, the dictatorship of the prole¬ 
tariat and the new kind of court were not having things easy by 
any means! Of course, not all the sessions were anything like so 
turbulent, but this wasn’t the only one of its kind. How many 
years it would take to reveal, direct, and confirm the necessary 
line, until the defense would stand as one with the prosecution 
and the court, and the accused would be in agreement with them 
too, and all the resolutions of the workers as well! 

To pursue this enterprise of many years’ duration is the re¬ 
warding task of the historian. As for us—^how are we to make our 
way through that rosy mist? Whom are we to ask about it? Those 
who were shot aren’t talking, and neither are those who have been 
scattered to the four winds. Even if the defendants, and the 
lawyers, and the guards, and the spectators have survived, no 
one will allow us to seek them out. 

Evidently, the only help we will get is from the prosecution. 


In this connection, I was given by well-wishers an intact copy 
of a collection of speeches for the prosecution delivered by that 
fierce revolutionary, the first People’s Commissar of Military 
Affairs in the Workers’ and Peasants’ Government, the Com¬ 
mander in Chief, and later the organizer of the Department of 
Exceptional Courts of the People’s Commissariat of Justice— 
where the personal rank of tribune was being readied for him, 
until Lenin vetoed the title^^—^the glorious accuser in the greatest 
trials, subsequently exposed as the ferocious enemy of the people, 
N. V. Krylenko.^® And if, despite everything, we want to at¬ 
tempt a brief review of the pubUc trials, if we are determined to 
try to get a feeling for the judicial atmosphere of the first post¬ 
revolutionary years, then we have to learn to read this Krylenko 
text. We have no other. And using it as a basis, we must try to 
picture to ourselves everything that is missing from it and every¬ 
thing that happened in the provinces too. 

Of course, we would prefer to see the stenographic record of 
those trials, to listen to the dramatic voices from beyond the 
grave of those first defendants and those first lawyers, speaking 
at a time when no one could have foreseen in what implacable 
sequence all of it would be swallowed up—together with those 
Revtribunal members as well. 

However, as Krylenko has explained, for a whole series of 
technical reasons “it was inconvenient to publish the stenographic 
records”^* It was convenient only to publish his speeches for the 
prosecution and the sentences handed down by the tribunals, 
which by that time had already come to jibe completely with the 
demands of the accuser-prosecutor. 

Krylenko claims that the archives of the Moscow Revtribunal 
and the Supreme Revtribunal turned out (by 1922) to be “far 
from orderly. ... In a whole series of cases the stenographic 
records ... were so incomprehensible that it was necessary either 
to cross out entire pages or else to try to restore the text from 
memory”! And a “series of the biggest trials”—^including the trial 
which followed the revolt of the Left SR’s, and the case of Ad- 

12. Lenin, fifth edition, Vol. 36, p. 210. 

13. Krylenko, Za Pyat Let {1918-1922), Edition 7,000 copies. Prose¬ 
cution speeches in the most important trials held before the Moscow and the 
Supreme Revolutionary Tribunals. 

14. Ibid,, p. 4. 

The Law as a Child | 307 

miral Shchastny—“were conducted entirely without stenographic 

This is strange. The condemnation of the Left SR’s was not a 
trivial matter. It was, after the February and October revolutions, 
the third turning point in our history, signaling the transition to 
a one-party system in the state. Not a few of them were shot. And 
no stenographic record was made. 

And the “Military Plot” of 1919 was “liquidated by the Cheka 
in an extrajudicial reprisal,”^* which “was further proof of its 
existence.”^^ (In this case more than one thousand people were 
arrested altogether,^® and, really, how could trials have been set up 
for them all?) 

So just try to produce a neat, orderly report on the trials of 
those years! 

Nevertheless we can learn the important principles involved 
in them. For example, the supreme accuser—^in other words, the 
Prosecutor General—^informs us that the All-Russian Central Ex¬ 
ecutive Committee had the right to intervene in any judicial pro¬ 
ceeding. “VTsIK pardons and punishes, at its own discretion 
without any limitation whatever For example, a six-month 
sentence was changed to ten years. (And, as the reader under¬ 
stands, it was not necessary for the entire All-Russian Central 
Executive Committee to assemble at a plenary meeting to this 
end, since its Chairman, Sverdlov, for example, could correct a 
sentence without leaving his oflSce.) All of this, Krylenko ex¬ 
plains, “shows the superiority of our system over the false theory 
of the separation of powers,”^® that is, the theory of the independ¬ 
ence of Ae judiciary. (True, Sverdlov also said; “It is very good 
that the legislative and executive power are not divided by a thick 
wall as they are in the West. All problems can be decided 
quickly." Especially on the phone.) 

Krylenko formulated even more frankly and precisely the 
general tasks of the Soviet courts in his speeches before those 
tribunals, when the court was “at one and the same time both 

15. Ibid,, pp. 4-5. 

16. Ibid,, p. 7. 

17. Ibid,, p, 44. 

18. Latsis, op, cit,, p. 46. 

19. Krylenko, op, cit,, p. 13. (My italics.) 

20. Ibid,, p. 14. 


the creator of the law [Krylenko’s italics] . . , and a political 
weapon”’‘^ (My italics.) 

Creator of the law because, for four years, there were no codes. 
They had thrown out the Tsarist codes, and they had not com¬ 
posed their own. “Don’t tell me our criminal courts ought to act 
exclusively on the basis of existing written norms. We live in the 
process of Revolution.”^^ “A tribunal is not the kind of court in 
which fine points of jurisprudence and clever stratagems are to be 
restored. . . . We are creating a new law and new ethical 
norms. And also; “No matter how much is said here about the 
eternal law of truth, justice, etc., we know ... how dearly these 
have cost us.”^^ 

(But if your prison terms are compared with ours, maybe it 
didn’t cost you so dearly after all? Maybe eternal justice was 
somewhat more comfortable?) 

The reason that fine points of jurisprudence are unnecessary 
is that there is no need to clarify whether the defendant is guilty 
or not guilty: the concept of guilt is an old bourgeois concept 
which has now been uprooted.^® 

And so we heard from Comrade Krylenko that a tribunal was 
not that kind of court! On another occasion we would hear from 
him that a tribunal was not a court at all: “A tribunal is an organ 
of the class struggle of the workers directed against their enemies” 
and must act “from the point of view of the interests of the revolu¬ 
tion .. . having in mind the most desirable results for the masses 
of workers and peasants.”^® People are not people, but “carriers 
of specific ideas.”^^ “No matter what the individual qualities [of 
the defendant], only one method of evaluating him is to be 
applied: evaluation from the point of view of class expedi¬ 

In other words, you can exist only if it’s expedient for the 
working class. And if “this expediency should require that the 
avenging sword should fall on the head of the defendants, then 

21. Ibid., p. 3. 

22. Ibid., p. 408. 

23. Ibid., p. 22. (My italics.) 

24. Ibid., p. 505. 

25. Ibid., p. 318. 

26. Ibid., p. 73. (The italics throughout are mine.) 

The Law as a Child | 309 

no . . . verbal arguments can help.”^® (Such as arguments by 
lawyers, etc.) “In our revolutionary court we are guided not by 
articles of the law and not by the degree of extenuating circum¬ 
stances; in the tribunal we must proceed on the basis of con¬ 
siderations of expediency.”*® 

That was the way it was in those years: people lived and 
breathed and then suddenly found out that their existence was 

And it must also be kept in mind that it was not what he had 
done that constituted the defendant’s burden, but what he might 
do if he were not shot now. “We protect ourselves not only 
against the past but also against the future.”*^ 

Comrade Krylenko’s pronouncements are clear and all-inclu¬ 
sive. They bring alive for us that whole period of the law in sharp 
relief. The clarity of autumn suddenly pierces the mists of spring 
and reaches us. And is it perhaps unnecessary to go further? 
Perhaps we aren’t required to page through trial after trial. These 
pronouncements will be henceforth inexorably applied. 

Close your eyes tight for a minute and picture a tiny court¬ 
room—^not yet gilded. Earnest members of the tribunal in simple 
field jackets, lean, not yet fat-faced. The accusing power —as 
Krylenko loved to style himself—^wears an unbuttoned civilian 
jacket, with a glimpse of a sailor’s striped undershirt just visible 
at the open throat. 

The supreme accuser expresses himself in this sort of language: 
“The question of fact is interesting to me!”; “Define concretely 
the aspect of the tendency!”; “We are operating on the plane of 
analysis of objective truth.” Sometimes, as you read, a quotation 
from the Latin shines out. (It is true that the same quotation turns 
up in case after case, but, after several years, a different one does 
appear.) And no wonder—he did, after all, complete the course 
in two faculties despite all his revolutionary running around. 
What attracts one to him are his frank opinions about the de¬ 
fendants: “Professional scoundrels!” And he isn’t hypocritical 
in the least. If he didn’t like the defendant’s smile, he didn’t hes¬ 
itate to blurt out a threat, even before any sentence was imposed. 

29. Ibid., p. 81. 

30. Ibid., p. 524. 

31. Ibid., 82. 


“And as for you and your smile, Citizeness Ivanova, we’ll make 
you pay for it, and we’ll find a way to fix it so that you never 
laugh againr^^ 

So, shall we begin? 

A. The Case of “Russkiye Vedomosti” 

In this case, one of the earliest, free speech was on trial. On 
March 24, 1918, this famous “professorial” newspaper published 
an article by Savinkov entitled “En Route.” They would have 
much preferred to arrest Savinkov himself, but he really was en 
route, damn it, and where was he to be found? So instead they 
closed down the paper and brought the elderly editor, P. V. 
Yegorov, to court as a defendant, insisting that he explain how 
he had dared to publish the article. After all, the New Era was 
four months old, and it was time to get used to it! 

Yegorov naively defended himself by saying that the article 
had been written by a “leading political figure whose opinion was 
of general interest whether or not the editors shared it.” Further¬ 
more, he saw nothing slanderous in Savinkov’s having said: “Let 
us not forget that Lenin, Natanson, and Co. arrived in Russia 
via Berlin; i.e., that the German authorities helped them return 
to the homeland”—^because that in actual fact was what had hap¬ 
pened; Kaiser Wilhelm’s embattled Germany had helped Com¬ 
rade Lenin to return. 

Krylenko retorted that he would not conduct a prosecution 
for slander (why not?), and that the newspaper was on trial for 
attempting to influence people’s minds! (And how could any 
newspaper dare have such a purpose!?) 

The formal charge did not include Savinkov’s phrase: “One 
has to be criminally insane to affirm seriously that the interna¬ 
tional proletariat will come to our aid” —because it still would 
come to our aid. 

For attempting to influence people’s minds, the newspaper, 
which had been published since 1864 and had survived the most 
fiercely reactionary periods—those of Loris-Melikov, Pobedo- 
nostsev, Stolypin, Kasso, and all the rest—^was ordered closed 
down forever! And Yegorov, the editor—and this is a shameful 

32. Ibid., p. 296. 

The Law as a Child \ 311 

thing to have to say—^was given only three months of solitary— 
just as though we were in Greece or some such place. (It is not 
so shamefully lenient, however, if one stops to think that it was 
only 1918! And if the old man managed to survive, he would 
be imprisoned again, and many more times too!) 

It may seem strange to us now, but it is a fact that in those 
thunderous years bribes were given and taken just as tenderly 
as they had been from time immemorial in Old Russia and as 
they will be in the Soviet Union from here to eternity. Bribery 
was particularly rife in the judicial organs. And, though we blush 
to say it, in the Cheka. The ofl&cial histories in their red, gold- 
stamped bindings are silent about this, but the old folks and eye¬ 
witnesses remember that the fate of political prisoners in the first 
years of the Revolution, as distinct from Stalinist times, often 
depended on bribes: they were accepted uninhibitedly, and pris¬ 
oners were honestly released as a result. Although Krylenko 
picked out only a dozen cases for the five-year period his book 
covers, he reports two cases of bribery. Alas, even the Moscow 
Tribunal and the Supreme Tribunal squeezed their way through 
to perfection along a crooked path, muddied themselves in im¬ 

B. The Case of the Three Interrogators of the Moscow Revtribnnal— 

April, 1918 

In March, 1918, a speculator in gold bars named Beridze was 
arrested. His wife tried to find a way to ransom her husband, 
which was the accepted thing to do. Through a series of connec¬ 
tions she succeeded in getting to one of the interrogators, who 
brought two others in with him. Meeting secretly, they demanded 
a bribe of 250,000 rubles, but, after some bargaining, they re¬ 
duced it to 60,000, half in advance. The deal was to be made 
through the lawyer Grin. Everything would have gone off without 
a fuss, as hundreds of similar deals had, and the case would have 
gotten into neither Krylenko’s chronicle nor ours, nor even be¬ 
come a matter of concern to the Council of People’s Commissars, 
had it not been that Beridze’s wife began to get miserly, and 
brought Grin only 15,000 as an advance payment, instead of 


30,000. But the main thing was that, in consequence of female 
fickleness, she changed her mind oveniight, decided her lawyer 
wasn’t good enough for her, and went off the next morning to 
find another, the attorney Yakulov. It is not stated anywhere, but 
it was evidently Yakulov who decided to turn in the interrogators. 

It Is of interest that all the witnesses in .this trial, , beginning 
with the unfortunate wife, tried to give testimony helpful to the 
accused and to befuddle the prosecution. (Which would have 
been inapossible in a political trial!) Krylenko explained their 
conduct as the result of a narrow-minded, philistine attitude, be¬ 
cause-they felt like outsiders as far as the Revtribunal was con¬ 
cerned. (And might we ourselves be so audacious as to advance 
the philistine hypothesis that in the course of a year and a half 
the witnesses had already learned to be afraid of the dictatorship 
of the proletariat? After all, it took a lot of nerve to turn in the 
interrogators of the Revtribunal. What would happen to you 
after that?) 

The accuser’s line of argument is also of interest. After all, 
just a month earlier the defendants had been his associates, his 
comrades in arms, his assistants. They were people who had 
been inalienably dedicated to the interests of the Revolution, and 
one of them, Leist, was-even “a stem accuser, capable of hurling 
thunder and lightning at anyone who attacked the foundations.” 
What was he to say about them now? Where was he to look for 
the causes of their fall? (A bribe was not enough in itself.) And, 
of course, it is clear where he looked: in their pasts, in their biog- 

Declared Krylenko: “If we look closely” at this Leist, “we will 
find highly interesting information.” This is intriguing. Was he 
an inveterate adventurer? No, but he was the son of a professor 
at Moscow University! And not an ordinary professor, but one 
who had survived twenty years of -reaction by 4is indifference to 
political activity! (And who, notwithstanding that reaction, had 
been accepted by Krylenko as a consultant.) Was it surprising, 
then, that the son turned out to be a double-dealer? 

As for Podgaisky, he was the son of an ofiScial in the law courts 
. . . beyond doirtit one of the reactionary, pogrom-organizing 
Black Hundreds; otherwise how could he have served the Tsar 
for twenty years? And the son, too, had prepared for a career in 

The Law as a Child | 313 

the law courts, but then the Revolution had come—and he had 
wormed His way into the Revtribuml. Just yesterday all this had 
been depicted in a very favorable light, but it had suddenly be¬ 
come repulsive! 

More repulsive than them both was, of course, Gugel. He had 
been a publisher. And what intellectual food had he been offer¬ 
ing the workers and peasants? He was “nourishing the broad 
masses with low-quality literature,” not Marx but, instead, books 
by bourgeois professors with world-famous names. (And we 
shall soon encounter these professors as defendants too.) 

Krylenko is enraged and marvels at the kind of people who 
have sneaked into the tribunal. (Neither do we understand: What 
kind of people are the workers’ and peasants’ tribunals composed 
of? Why had the proletariat entrusted the task of striking down 
their enemies to people of this particular kind?) 

And as for Grin, Ae lawyer, a man with an “in” on the in¬ 
vestigating commission, who was quite able to get anybody off 
scot-free, he was a typical representative of that subspecies of 
the human race which Marx called “leeches on the capitalist 
structure”—a category including, in addition, all lawyers, gen¬ 
darmes, priests, and also . .. notaries.®® 

It appears that Krylenko spared no effort in demanding merci¬ 
lessly severe sentences, without reference to “the individual shad¬ 
ings of guilt.” But some kind of lethargy, some sort of torpor, 
overcame the eternally vigorous tribunal, and it,just barely man¬ 
aged to mumble six months in jail for the interrogators, and a 
fine for the lawyer. And only by availing himself of the authority 
of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee “to punish 
without limitation,” did Krylenko, there in the Metropole, con¬ 
tinue to hang ten-year sentences on the interrogators and five 
on the lawyer, plus full confiscation of his property. Krylenko 
thundered on about vigilance, and he almost managed, but not 
quite, to get the title of Tribune he so coveted. 

We recognize that among the revolutionary masses at the 
time, as among our readers today, this unfortunate trial could not 
but undermine faith in the sanctity of the tribunal. And we there¬ 
fore proceed with even greater timidity to the next case, which 
concerned an even loftier institution. 

33. Ibid., p. 500. 


C. The Case of Kosyrev—^February 15,1919 

F. M. Kosyrev and his pals Libert, Rottenberg, and Solovyev 
had first served on the Commission for Supply of the Eastern 
Front (back before Kolchak, when the enemy forces were the 
armies of the Constituent Assembly). It was discovered that 
there they had found ways to siphon into their own pockets from 
seventy thousand to a million rubles at a time; they rode around 
on fine horses and engaged in orgies with the nurses. Their Com¬ 
mission had acquired a house and an automobile, and their major- 
domo lived it up in the Yar Restaurant. (We aren’t accustomed 
to picturing 1918 in this light, but all this was in the testimony 
of the Revtribunal.) 

But none of this, to be sure, was the case against them. No 
charge had been brought against any of them in connection with 
their activities on the Eastern Front; they had even been forgiven 
all that. But wonder of wonders! Hardly had their Commission 
for Supply been disbanded than aU four of them, with the addition 
of Nazarenko, a former Siberian tramp and convict pal of 
Kosyrev in criminal hard labor, were invited to constitute . . . 
the Control and Auditing Collegium of the VChK—the Cheka! 

Here’s what this Collegium was: it had plenipotentiary powers 
to verify the legality of the actions of all the remaining organs of 
the Cheka, the right to demand and review any case at any stage 
of its processing, and to reverse the decisions of all the remaining 
organs of the VChK, excepting only the Presidium of the 
Cheka !”®^ This was no small thing. This Collegium was second- 
in-command in the Cheka after the Presidium itself—it ranked 
immediately below Dzerzhinsky-Uritsky-Peters-Latsis-Menzhin- 

The way of life of this comradely group remained just what it 
had been before. They didn’t get swelled heads; they didn’t get 
carried away. With certain individuals named Maximych, Lenka, 
Rafailsky, and Mariupolsky, “who had no connection at aU with 
the Communist Party,” they set up—in private apartments and 
in the Hotel Savoy—“lavish establishments where card games 
with table stakes as high as a thousand rubles a throw were the 
order of the day, along with heavy drinking and women.” Kosyrev 
acquired a rich establishment of his own (costing 70,000 rubles) 

34. Ibid., p. 507. 

The Law as a Child \ 315 

and, in fact, did not even draw the line at hauling off silver spoons 
and goblets, and even ordinary glassware, from the Cheka. (And 
how did all these objects get to the Cheka?) “And this was where 
his attention was concentrated, rather than in the direction of 
ideas and ideology, and this was what he took from the revolu¬ 
tionary movement.” (In the very act of repudiating the bribes he 
had accepted, this leading Chekist, without blinking, volunteered 
the lie that he possessed 200,000 rubles from an inheritance in a 
Chicago bank! Evidently, as far as he was concerned, there was 
no conflict between such a circumstance and world revolution!) 

Now how did he propose to make proper use of his super¬ 
human right to arrest anyone at all and release anyone at aU? 
Clearly, one had to find a fish with golden roe—and in 1918 
there were not a few such fish in the nets. (After all, the Revolu¬ 
tion had been carried out too quickly; they hadn’t found every¬ 
thing—^how many precious stones, necklaces, bracelets, rings, 
and earrings the bourgeois ladies had managed to hide away!) 
Then one had to make contact with the relatives of those who 
had been arrested through some reliable middleman. 

Such characters also pass before us at the trial. There was Us¬ 
penskaya, a woman of twenty-two. She had graduated from the St. 
Petersburg Gymnasium, but hadn’t gone on to the university— 
the Soviets had come to power—and so, in the spring of 1918, 
Uspenskaya appeared at the Cheka to offer her services as an in¬ 
former. She qualified on the basis of her appearance, and they 
accepted her. 

Krylenko has this to say about informing, which in those days 
had a different label: “For ourselves, we see nothing shameful in 
it, we consider this to be our duty ... the work itself is not dis¬ 
graceful; once a person admits that this work is necessary in the 
interests of the Revolution, then he must do it.”®® But, alas, it 
turned out that Uspenskaya had no political credo! That’s what 
was awful. She declared: “I agreed in order to be paid a fixed 
percentage” on the cases which were turned up, and, beyond that, 
“to split 50-50” with someone else . . . whom the court protected 
and instructed her not to identify. Krylenko put it in his own 
words: “Uspenskaya was not a staff member of the Cheka but 
worked at piece rates. And, incidentally, the accuser, under- 

35. Ibid., p. 513. (My italics.) 


Standing her in a very human way, explains that she had grown 
used to having plenty of money, and that her insignificant salary of 
500 rubles from the Supreme Council of the Economy was nothing 
at all, considering that one exercise in extortion—for example, 
helping a merchant get the seal removed from his store—^would 
net her 5,000 rubles, and another—from Meshcherskaya-Grevs, 
wife of a prisoner—^would bring in 17,000. For that matter, 
Uspenskaya served only briefly as a mere stool pigeon. Thanks to 
the help of certain big Chekists, in a few months she became 
a member of the Communist Party and an interrogator. 

However, we don’t seem to be getting to the essence of the 
case. Uspenskaya had arranged a meeting between this Meshch¬ 
erskaya-Grevs and a certain Godelyuk, a bosom pal of Kosyrev, 
in order to reach an agreement on her husband’s ransom. (They 
had initially demanded 600,000 rubles!) But unfortunately, by 
some still unexplained means, the arrangements for that secret 
meeting became known to the same attorney, Yakulov, who had 
already done in the three bribe-taking interrogators and who, 
evidently, felt a class hatred for the whole proletarian sj^tem of 
judicial and extrajudicial processing. Yakulov denounced them to 
the Moscow Revtribunal,®^ and the presiding judge of the tribunal, 
recalling perhaps the wrath of the Council of People’s Commissars 
in coimection with the three interrogators, also blundered in 
terms of class premises. Instead of simply warning Comrade 
Dzerzhinsky and working it all out in the family, he hid a steno¬ 
grapher beWnd the curtain. And the stenographer took down all 
Godelyuk’s references to Kosyrev, and to Solovyev and to other 
commissars, and all his stories about who in the Cheka takes how 
many thousands. Then, as per the stenographic record, Godelyuk 
received an advance payment of 12,000 rubles, and Meshcher¬ 
skaya-Grevs was given a pass to enter the Cheka that had already 
been filled out by the Control and Auditing Collegium, by Libert 
and Rottenberg. (The bargaining was to continue there, inside 
the Cheka.) Then and there Godelyuk was caught! In his con- 

37. In order to temper the reader’s indignation against this leechlike snake, 
Yakulov, we should point out that by the time of Kosyrev’s trial he had already 
been arrested and was in custody. They had found a case to take care of him. 
He was brought in to testify accompanied by convoy, and we are certainly 
entitled to hope that he was shot soon afterward. (Today we are surprised: 
How did things reach such a pitch of illegality? Why did no one mount an 
offensive against it?) 

The Law as a Child \ 317 

fusion, he gave testimony against them! (And Meshcherskaya- 
Grevs had already gotten to the Control and Auditing Collegium, 
and they had already ordered her husband’s case transferred there 
for verification.) 

But just a moment! After all, an expos6 like this sullies the 
heavenly blue uniforms of the Cheka! Was the presiding judge of 
the Moscow Revtribunal in his right mind? Was he really tending 
to his own business? 

But it turns out that that was the nature of the moment —a 
moment totally hidden from us in the folds of our majestic history! 
It seems that the Cheka’s first year of work had produced a some¬ 
what repellent impression even on the Party of the proletariat, 
which still hadn’t gotten used to it. Only its first year had passed; 
the Cheka had taken only the first step on its glorious path; and 
already, as Krylenko writes, although not very clearly, a “dispute” 
had arisen “between the court and its functions and the extra- 
judicial functions of the Cheka ... a dispute which, at the time, 
split the Party and the workers’ districts into two camps.”®* And 
that is how the Kos)^ev case could come up—whereas everything 
had gone smoothly before—and reach all the way up to the top¬ 
most level of the whole state apparatus. 

The Cheka had to be saved! Help! Save the Cheka! Solovyev 
asked the tribunal to allow him inside the Taganka Prison to 
visit Godelyuk (who, alas, was not in the Lubyanka) so as to 
chat with him. The tribunal declined the request. Then Solovyev 
managed to penetrate into Godelyuk’s cell without the help of 
any tribunal, and—^what a coincidence!—^at that very point 
Godelyuk became seriously ill. (“One can hardly speak of evil 
intentions on Solovyev’s part,” Krylenko bows and scrapes.) 
Feeling the approach of death, Godelyuk shakily repented hav¬ 
ing slandered the Cheka and asked for a sheet of paper on which 
to write his recantation: it was all untrue; he had slandered 
Kosyrev and the other commissars of the Cheka, and everything 
the stenographer had taken down behind the curtain was also 

38. Krylenko, op, cit,, p. 14. 

39. Oh, how many themes we have here! Oh, where is Shakespeare? Solovyev 
passes through the walls, flickering shadows in the cell, Godelyuk recants with 
failing hand. And all we hear about the years of the Revolution in our plays 
and our films is the street singing of “Hostile Whirlwinds.” 


“And who filled out the passes for Meshcherskaya-Grevs?” 
Krylenko insisted. They hadn’t materialized out of thin air, cer¬ 
tainly? No, the chief accuser “does not wish to say that Solovyev 
was an accessory in this case, because . . . because there is in¬ 
sufficient evidence,” but he advances the hypothesis that “citizens 
still at liberty who were in danger of being caught with their 
hands in the till” might have sent Solovyev to the Taganka jail. 

This was the perfect time to question Libert and Rottenberg, 
and they were subpoenaed, but they didn’t appear! Just like that! 
They didn’t show up. They declined to. All right, in that case 
question Meshcherskaya-Grevs! And—can you imagine it?— 
this broken-down aristocrat, too, was so brazen as not to appear 
before the Revtribunal! And there was no way to force her to! 
Godelyuk had recanted—and was dying. Kosyrev refused to 
admit anything! Solovyev was not guilty of anything! So there 
was no one to question. 

What witnesses, on the other hand, did indeed appear before 
the tribunal, and of their own free will! The Deputy Chief of the 
Cheka, Comrade Peters. And even Feliks Edmundovich Dzer¬ 
zhinsky himself. He arrived in a state of alarm. His long, burning 
zealot’s face confronted the tribunal—^whose members sat with 
sinking hearts—and he testified passionately in defense of the 
totally innocent Kosyrev and his high moral, revolutionary, and 
professional qualities. This testimony, alas, has not been pre¬ 
served for us, but Krylenko refers to it this way: “Solovyev and 
Dzerzhinsky portrayed Kosyrev’s wonderful qualites.”^ (Alas, 
you careless shavetail, you! In twenty years’ time, in the Lub- 
yanka, they are going to remind you of that trial!) It is easy to 
guess what Dzerzhinsky could have said: that Kosyrev was an 
iron Chekist, merciless to their enemies; that he was a good 
comrade. A hot heart, a cool head, clean hands. 

And from the garbage heap of slander, the bronze knight 
Kosyrev rises before our eyes. Furthermore, his whole biography 
testifies to his remarkable will. Before the Revolution he was 
convicted several times—^most often for murder. In the city of 
Kostroma, he was convicted of worming his way by deception 
into the house of an old woman named Smirnova and strangling 
her with his own hands; then of an attempt to kill his own father; 

40. Krylenko, op. cit., p. 522. 

The Law as a Child \ 319 

and then of killing a comrade in order to use his passport. The 
rest of Kosyrev’s convictions were for swindling, and in all he 
spent many years at hard labor. (One could understand his 
desire for a luxurious life.) And he had only been freed by the 
Tsarist amnesties. 

At that point, the stern and righteous voices of the major 
Chekists interrupted the chief accuser; they pointed out to him 
that those courts which had convicted Kosyrev were courts of 
the bourgeoisie and landowners and did not merit being noticed 
in our new society. But what happened? The shavetail, going 
overboard, poured forth from the chief accuser’s rostrum a tirade 
so ideologically faulty that in our exposition of this harmonious 
series of cases tried by the tribunals, citing it is to strike a dis¬ 
cordant note. 

“If there was anything good in the old Tsarist court system, 
it was only trial by jury. . . . One could always have confidence 
in the jurors’ decisions and a minimum of judicial error was to 
be found in them.”^^ 

It was all the more vexing to hear this sort of thing from 
Comrade Krylenko because just three months before, at the trial 
of the provocateur R. Malinovsky, a former favorite of the Com¬ 
munist Party leadership, who, notwithstanding his four criminal 
convictions in the past, had been co-opted into the Central 
Committee by the leadership and appointed to the Duma, the 
accusing power had taken an impeccable class stand. 

“Every crime is the result of a given social system, and in 
these terms criminal convictions under the laws of a capitalist 
society and in Tsarist times do not, in our eyes, constitute a fact 
branding a person with an indelible mark once and for all. . . . 
We know of many examples of persons in our ranks branded 
by such facts in the past, but we have never drawn the con¬ 
clusion that it was necessary to remove such a person from our 
milieu. A person who knows our principles cannot fear that the 
existence of previous criminal convictions in his record will 
jeopardize his being included in the ranks of the revolution¬ 

That is how Comrade Krylenko could speak when in a Party 

41. Ibid. 

42. Ibid., p. 337. 


vein. But in this other case, as a result of his mistaken judgment, 
the image of the knight in shining armor, Kosyrev, was being 
bespattered. And it created a situation in die tribunal wherein 
Comrade Dzerzhinsky was forced to say: “For just one second 
[Just one second!] the thought crossed my mind that citizen 
Kosyrev might be falling victim to the political passions which in 
recent Ames have blazed up around the Extraordinary Commis¬ 

And Krylenko suddenly took thought: “I do not wish, and I 
never have wished, that the present trial should turn into a trial 
of the Cheka rather than a trial of Kosyrev and Uspenskaya. Not 
only am I unable to desire such an outcome: I am obliged to fight 
against it with all available means!” And he went on: “The most 
responsible, honest, and self-controlled comrades were put at 
the head of the Extraordinary Commission, and they took on 
themselves the difficult task of striking down the enemy, even 
though this involved the risk of error.... For this the Revolution 
is obliged to say thank you. ... I underline this aspect so that 
... no one can ever say to me later: ‘He turned out to be an 
instrument of political treason!’ ”** (But that’s what they will say!) 

What a razor edge the supreme accuser was walking! But he 
evidently had certain contacts, going back to his days in the 
underground, through which he learned how things were going 
to move on the morrow. This is conspicuous in several trials, and 
came out here too. At the beginning of 1919, there were certain 
trends toward saying: “It is enough! It is time to bridle the 
Cheka!” And this moment was “beautifully caught in Bukharin’s 
essay, in which he said that revolutionary legality must give way 
to legalized revolutionality.”^ 

Wherever you look you see dialectics! And Krylenko burst 
out: “The Revtribunal is being called on to replace the Extraor¬ 
dinary Commission.” (To replace???) Meanwhile, it “must be 
. . . no less fierce in implementing the system of terror, intimida- 
fion, and threat than was the Extraordinary Commission—the 

Than it was? The past tense? Has he already buried it? Come 

43. Ibid., p. 509. 

44. Ibid., pp. 505-510. (My italics.) 

45. Ibid., p. 511. 

46. Ibid. 

The Law as a Child | 321 

now, you are going to replace it, and where are the Chekists 
supposed to go? Ominous days! ITiat was reason enough to hurry 
to the tribunal, in a greatcoat down to one’s heels, to testify as a 

But perhaps your sources of information. Comrade Krylenko, 
are false? 

Yes, the heavens darkened over the Lubyanka in those days. 
And this whole book might have been very different. But I sup¬ 
pose that what happened was that iron FeUks Dzerzhinsky went 
to see Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, and talked it over and explained. 
And the skies cleared. And although two days later, on Feb¬ 
ruary 17, 1919, the Cheka was deprived of its judicial rights by 
special decree of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee— 
it was “not for long"*’’ 

Oilr day in court was further compUcated by the fact that the 
objectionable Uspenskaya behaved abominably. From the de¬ 
fendants’ bench she “threw mud at” leading Chekists who had 
not previously been touched by the trial, including Comrade 
Peters! (She turned out to have used his pure name in her black¬ 
mailing operations; she used to sit right in his office, without 
any ceremony, during his conversations with other intelligence 
agents.) Now she hinted at some dark prerevolutionary past of 
his in Riga. That’s the kind of snake she had turned into in eight 
months, despite the fact that she had been with Chekists during 
those eight months! What was to be done with such a woman? 
Here Krylenko’s position jibed completely with that of the 
Chekists: “Until a &m regime has been established, and we are a 
long way from, that being the case [Are we really???] ... in the 
interests of the defense of the Revolution . . . there is not and 
cannot be any sentence for citizeness Uspenskaya other than her 
annihilation” He did not say “to be shot”—^what he said was 
“annihilation”! But after aU, Citizen Krylenko, she’s just a young 
girl! Come on now, give her a “tenner,” or maybe a “twenty- 
five,” and maybe the system will be firmly established by then? 
How about it? But alas: “In the interests of society and of the 
Revolution there is no other answer, nor can there be one—and 
the question cannot be put any other way. In the given case, 
detention isn’t going to bear any fruit!” 

47. Ibid., p. 14. 


She had sure rubbed the salt in. . . . She knew too much. . . . 

And Kosyrev had to be sacrificed too. They shot him. It was 
for the health of the others. 

Can it really be that someday we will read the old Lubyanka 
archives? No, they will burn them. They already have. 

As the reader can see for himself, this was a very unimportant 
case. We didn’t have to dwell on it. But here is a different one. 

D. The Case of the “Churchmen”—January 11-16, 1920 

This case, in Krylenko’s opinion, is going to have a “suitable 
place in the annals of the Russian Revolution.” Right there in 
the annals, indeed! It took one day to wring Kosyrev’s neck, but 
in this case they dragged things out for five whole days. 

The principal defendants were; A. D. Samarin (a famous 
man in Russia, the former chief procurator of the Synod; a man 
who had tried to liberate the church from the Tsar’s yoke, an 
enemy of Rasputin whom Rasputin had forced out of office) 
Kuznetsov, Professor of Church Law at Moscow University; the 
Moscow archpriests Uspensky and Tsvetkov. (The accuser him¬ 
self had this to say about Tsvetkov: “An important public figure, 
perhaps the best that the clergy could produce, a philanthropist.”) 

Their guilt lay in creating the “Moscow Council of United 
Parishes,” which had in turn recruited, from among believers 
forty to eighty years old, a voluntary guard for the Patriarch 
(unarmed, of course), which had set up permanent day and night 
watches in his residence, who were charged with the responsi¬ 
bility, in the event of danger from the authorities to the Patriarch, 
of assembling the people by ringing the church alarm bells and by 
telephone, so that a whole crowd might follow wherever the 
Patriarch might be taken and beg —and there’s your counter¬ 
revolution for you!—the Council of People’s Commissars to re¬ 
lease him! 

What an ancient Russian—^Holy Russian—scheme! To as¬ 
semble the people by ringing the alarm bells . . . and proceed in 
a crowd with a petition! 

48. But accuser Krylenko saw no difference whatever between Samarin and 

The Law as a Child \ 323 

And the accuser was astonished. What danger threatened the 
Patriarch? Why had plans been made to defend him? 

Well, of course, it was really no more than the fact that the 
Cheka had for two years been conducting extrajudicial reprisals 
against undesirables, the fact that only a short while before four 
Red Army men in Kiev had killed the Metropolitan, the fact that 
the Patriarch’s “case had already been worked up and com¬ 
pleted, and all that remained was to bring it before the Rev- 
tribunal,” and “it was only out of concern for the broad masses 
of workers and peasants, still under the influence of clerical 
propaganda, that we have left these, our class enemies, alone for 
the time being”*^ How could Orthodox believers possibly be 
alarmed on the Patriarch’s account? During those two years 
Patriarch Tikhon had refused to keep silent. He had sent messages 
to the People’s Commissars, to the clergy, and to his flock. His 
messages were not accepted by the printers but were copied on 
typewriters (the first samizdat). They exposed the annihilation 
of the innocents, the ruin of the country. How, therefore, could 
anyone really be concerned for the Patriarch’s life? 

A second charge was brought against the defendants. Through¬ 
out the country, a census and requisition of church property was 
taking place (this was in addition to the closing of monasteries 
and the expropriation of church lands and properties; in question 
here were liturgical vessels, cups, and candelabra). And the 
Coimcil of Parishes had disseminated an appeal to believers to 
resist the requisition, sounding the alarm on the church bells. 
(And that was natural, after all! That, after all, was how they 
had defended the churches against the Tatars too!) 

And the third charge against them was their incessant, im¬ 
pudent dispatching of petitions to the Council of People’s Com¬ 
missars for relief from the desecration of the churches by local 
authorities, from crude blasphemy and violations of the law which 
guaranteed freedom of conscience. Even though no action was 
taken on these petitions (according to the testimony of Bonch- 
Bruyevich, administrative officer of the Council of People’s Com¬ 
missars), they had discredited the local authorities. 

Taking into consideration all the violations committed by these 
defendants, what punishment could the accuser possibly demand 

49. Krylenko, op, cit., p. 61. 


for these awful crimes'? Will not the reader’s revolutionary con¬ 
science prompt the answer? To be shot, of course. And that is 
just what Krylenko did demand—^for Samarin and Kuznetsov. 

But while they were fussing around with these damned legal 
formalities, and listening to too many long speeches from too 
many bourgeois lawyers (speeches which “for technical reasons” 
we will not cite here), it turned out that capital punishment had 
been . . . abolished! What a fix! It just couldn’t be! What had 
happened? It developed that Dzerzhinsky had issued this order to 
the Cheka (the Cheka, without capital punishment?). But had it 
been extended to the tribunals by the Council of People’s Com¬ 
missars? Not yet. Krylenko cheered up. And he continued to de¬ 
mand execution by shooting, on the following grounds: 

“Even if we suppose that the consolidation of the Republic has 
removed the immediacy of threat from such persons, it seems 
nonetheless indubitable that in this period of creative effort . . . 
a purge ... of the old turncoat leaders ... is required by revolu¬ 
tionary necessity.” And further: “Soviet power is proud of the 
decree of the Cheka abolishing the death penalty.” But this “still 
does not force us to conclude that the question of the abolition of 
capital punishment has been decided once and for all . . . for 
the entire period of Soviet rule.”®® 

That was quite prophetic! Capital punishment would return— 
and very soon too! After all, what a long line still remained to 
be rubbed out! (Yes, including Krylenko too, and many of his 
class brothers as well.) 

And, indeed, the tribunal was submissive and sentenced 
Samarin and Kuznetsov to be shot, but they did manage to tack 
on a recommendation for clemency: to be imprisoned in a con¬ 
centration camp until the final victory over world imperialism! 
(They would still be sitting there today!) And as for “the best 
that the clergy could produce”—^his sentence was fifteen years, 
commuted to five. 

Other defendants as well were dragged into this trial in order 
to add at least a little substance to the charges. Among them 
were some monks and teachers of Zvenigorod, involved in the 
Zvenigorod affair in the summer of 1918, but for some reason 
not brought to trial for a year and a half (or they might have 
been, but were now being tried again, since it was expedient). 

50. Ibid., p. 81. 

The Law as a Child | 325 

That summer some Soviet officials had called on Father Superior 
lon®^ at the Zvenigorod monastery and ordered him (“Step 
lively there!”) to turn over to them the holy relics of St. Savva. 
The officials not only smoked inside the church and evidently be¬ 
hind the altar screen as well, and, of course, refused to take off 
their caps, but one of them took Savva’s skull in his hands and be¬ 
gan to spit into it, to demonstrate that its sanctity was an illusion. 
And there were further acts of desecration. This led to the alarm 
bell being sounded, a popular uprising, and the killing of one or 
two of the officials. (The others denied having committed any 
acts of desecration, including the spitting incident, and Krylenko 
accepted their denials.)®^ Were these officials the ones on trial 
now? No, the monks. 

We beg the reader, throughout, to keep in mind: from 1918 
on, our judicial custom determined that every Moscow trial, 
except, of course, the unjust trial of the Che^sts, was by no 
means an isolated trial of an accidental concatenation of cir¬ 
cumstances which had converged by accident; it was a landmark 
of judicial policy; it was a display-window model whose specifi¬ 
cations determined what product was good for the provinces too; 
it was a standard; it was like that one-and-only model solution 
up front in the arithmetic book for the schoolchildren to follow 
for themselves. 

Thus, when we say, “the trial of the churchmen,” this must be 
understood in the multiple plural... “many trials.” And, in fact, 
the supreme accuser himself willingly explains: “Such trials have 
rolled along through almost all the tribunals of the Republic.” 
(What language!) They had taken place not long before in the 
tribunals in North Dvina, Tver, and Ryazan; in Saratov, Kazan, 
Ufa, Solvychegodsk, and Tsarevokokshaisk, trials were held of 
the clergy, the choirs, and the active members of the congrega- 

51. Firguf, a former guards officer of the Tsar’s household cavalry, who 
had “suddenly undergone a spiritual conversion, given all his goods to the 
poor, and entered a monastery, but I do not in fact know whether he actually 
did distribute his goods to the poor.” Yes, and if one admits the possibility of 
spiritual conversion, what then remains of class theory? 

52.. But which of us doesn’t remember similar scenes? My first memory is 
of an event that took place when I was, probably, three or four; The peaked- 
heads (as they called the Chekists in their high-peaked Budenny caps) invaded 
a Kislovodsk church, sliced through the dumbstruck crowd of worshipers, and, 
in their pointed caps, went straight through the altar sereen to the altar and 
stopped the service. 


tion—^representatives of the ungrateful “Orthodox church, 
liberated by the October Revolution.”®* 

The reader will be aware of a conflict here: why did many of 
these trials occur earlier than the Moscow model? This is simply 
a shortconung of our exposition. The judicial and the extrajudicial 
persecution of the liberated church had begun well back in 1918, 
and, judging by the Zvenigorod affair, it had already reached a 
peak of intensity by that summer. In October, 1918, Patriarch 
Tikhon had protested in a message to the Council of People’s 
Comnussars Aat there was no freedom to preach in the churches 
and that “many courageous priests have already paid for their 
preaching with the blood of martyrdom.... You have laid your 
hands on church property collected by generations of believers, 
and you have not hesitated to violate their posthumous intent.” 
(The People’s Commissars did not, of course, read the message, 
but the members of their administrative staff must have had a 
good laugh: Now they’ve really got something to reproach us 
with—^posthumous intent! We sh-t on your ancestors! We are 
only interested in descendants.) “They are executing bishops, 
priests, monks, and nuns who are guilty of nothing, on the basis of 
indiscriminate charges of indefinite and vaguely counterrevolu¬ 
tionary offenses.” True, with the approach of Denikin and 
Kolchak, this was stopped, so as to m^e it easier for Orthodox 
believers to defend the Revolution. But hardly had the Civil War 
begun to die down than they took up their cudgels against the 
church again, and the cases started rolling through the tribunals 
once more. In 1920 they struck at the Trinity-St. Sergius Mona¬ 
stery and went straight to the holy relics of that chauvinist Sergius 
of Radonezh, and hauled them off to a Moscow museum.®* 

53. Krylenko, op. cit., p. 61. 

54. The Patriarch cited Kl)aichevsky: “The gates of the monastery of the 
Saint will shut and the ikon lamps will be extinguished over his sepulcher only 
when we shall have lost every vestige of that spiritual and moral strength willed 
to us by such great builders of the Russian land as Saint Sergius.” Klyuchevsky 
did not imagine that the loss would occur almost in his own lifetime. The 
Patriarch asked for an appointment with the Chairman of the Council of 
People’s Commissars, in the hope of persuading him not to touch the holy 
monastery and the relics ... for after all the church was separate from die 
state! The answer came back that the Chairman was occupied in discussing 
important business, and that the appointment could not be arranged for the 
near future. 

Nor for the distant future either. 

The Law as a Child | 327 

The People’s Commissariat of Justice issued a directive, dated 
August 25, 1920, for the liquidation of relics of all kinds, since 
they were a significant obstacle to the resplendent movement 
toward a new, just society. 

Pursuing further Krylenko’s own selection of cases, let us also 
examine the case tried in the Verkhtrib —in other words, the 
Supreme Tribunal. (How affectionately they abbreviated words 
within their intimate circle, but how they roared out for us little 
insects: “Rise! The court is in session!”) 

E. The Case of the “Tactical Center”—^August 16-20, 1920 

In this case there were twenty-eight defendants present, plus 
additional defendants who were being tried in absentia because 
they weren’t around. 

At the very beginning of his impassioned speech, in a voice 
not yet grown hoarse and in phrases illumined by class analysis, 
the supreme accuser informs us that in addition to the land- 
owners and the capitalists “there existed and there continues to 
exist one additional social stratum, the social characteristics of 
which have long since been under consideration by the repre¬ 
sentatives of revolutionary socialism. [In other words: to be or 
not to be?] This stratum is the so-called ‘intelligentsia.’ In this 
trial, we shall be concerned with the judgment of history on the 
activity of the Russian intelligentsia”^^ and with the verdict of 
the Revolution on it. 

The narrow limits of our investigation prevent our compre¬ 
hending exactly the particular manner in which the representa¬ 
tives of revolutionary socialism were taking under consideration 
the fate of the so-called intelligentsia and what specifically they 
were planning for it. However, we take comfort in the fact that 
these materials have been published, that they are accessible to 
everyone, and that they can be assembled in any required detail. 
Therefore, solely to understand the over-all atmosphere of the 
Republic, we shall recall the opinion of the Chairman of the 
Council of People’s Commissars in the years when all these 
tribunal sessions were going on. 

55. Krylenko, op, cii., p. 34. 


In a letter to Gorky on September 15, 1919—^which we have 
already cited—^Vladimir Ilyich Lenin replied to Gorky’s attempts 
to intercede in the arrests of members of the intelligentsia, among 
them, evidently, some of the defendants in this trial, and, com¬ 
menting on the bulk of the Russian intelhgentsia of those years 
(the “close-to-the-Cadets intelligentsia”), he wrote: “In actual 
fact they are not [the natioris] brains, but shit.'"^^ On another 
occasion he said to Gorky: “If we break too many pots, it will be 
its [the intelligentsia’s] fault.”®^ If the intelligentsia wants justice, 
why doesn’t it come over to us? “I’ve gotten one bullet from the 
intelhgentsia myself.”®* (In other words, from Kaplan.) 

On the basis of these feelings, he expressed his mistrust and 
hostihty toward the intelhgentsia: rotten-hberal; “pious”; “the 
slovenliness so customary among ‘educated’ people”;®® he be- 
heved the intelligentsia was always shortsighted, that it had 
betrayed the cause of the workers. (But when had the intel¬ 
hgentsia ever sworn loyalty to the cause of the workers, the 
dictatorship of the workers?) 

This mockery of the intelhgentsia, this contempt for the intel¬ 
hgentsia, was subsequently adopted with enthusiasm by the 
pubhcists and the newspapers of the twenties and was absorbed 
into the current of day-to-day hfe. And in the end, the members 
of the intelhgentsia accepted it too, cursing their eternal thought¬ 
lessness, their eternal duality, their eternal spinelessness, and 
their hopeless lagging behind the times. 

And this was just! The voice of the accusing power echoed 
and re-echoed beneath the vaults of the Verkhtrib, returning 
us to the defendants’ bench. 

“This social stratum . . . has, during recent years, undergone 
the trial of universal re-evaluation.” Yes, yes, re-evaluation, as 
was so often said at the time. And how did that re-evaluation 
occur? Here’s how: “The Russian intehigentsia which entered the 
crucible of the Revolution with slogans of power for the people 
[so, it had something to it after all!] emerged from it an ally of 
the black [not even White!] generals, and a hired [!] and obedient 

56. Lenin, fifth edition, Vol. 51, p. 48. 

57 V. L Lenin i A, M. Gorky {V. /. Lenin and A, M. Gorky), Moscow, 
Academy of Sciences Publishing House, 1961, p. 263. 

58. Ibid. 

59. Lenin, fourth edition, Vol. 26, p. 373. 

The Law as a Child \ 329 

agent of European imperialism. The intelligentsia trampled on 
its own baimers [as jn the army, yes?] and covered them with 

How, indeed, can we not, cry out our-hearts in repentance? 
How can we not lacerate our. chests-with our fingernails? 

And the only reason why ‘hheire rs no med to deal out the 
death blow to its individual re'presentatives” is that “this social 
group has outlived its time.”^^ 

Here, at the start of the twentieth century! What power of 
foresight! Oh, scientific revolutionaries! (However, the intel¬ 
ligentsia had to be finished off anyway. Throughout the twenties 
they kept finishing them off and Wshing them off.) 

We examine with hostility the twenty-eight individual allies of 
the black generals, the hirelings of European imperialism. And 
we are especially aroused by the stench of the word Center. Now 
we see a Tactical Center, now a National Center, and now a 
Right Center. (And in our recollection of the trials of two 
decades. Centers keep creeping in all the time. Centers and 
Centers, Engineers’ Centers, Menshevik Centers, Trotskyite- 
Zinovievite Centers, Rightist-Bukharinite Centers, but all of them 
are crushed, all crushed, and that is the only reason you and I are 
still alive.) Wherever there is a Center, of course, the hand of 
imperialism can be found. 

True, we feel a measure of relief when we learn that the 
Tactical Center on this occasion was not an organization', that it 
did not have: (1) statutes; (2) a program; (3) membership 
dues. So, what' did it have? Here’s what: They used to meet! 
(Goose-pimples up and down the- back!i)- And when they met, 
they undertook to familiarize themselves with one another’s point 
of view! (Icy chills!) 

The charges were extremely serious and were supported by 
the evidence. There were two (2) pieces of evidence to cor¬ 
roborate the charges against twenty-eight accused individuals.®^ 
These were two letters from people who were not present in court 
because they were abroad: Myakotin and Fyodorov. They were 
absent, but until the October Revolution they had been members 

60. Krylenko, op. cit., p. 54. 

61. Ibid., p. 38. 

62. Ibid. 


of the same committees as those who were present, a circum¬ 
stance that gave us the right to equate those who were absent 
with those who were present. And their letters dealt with their 
disagreements with Denikin on certain trivial questions: the 
peasant question (we are not told what these differences were, 
but they were evidently advising Denikin to give the land to the 
peasants); the Jewish question (they were evidently advising him 
not to return to the previous restrictions); the federated nationali¬ 
ties question (enough said: clear); the question of the structure 
of the government (democracy rather than dictatorship); and 
similar matters. And what conclusion did this evidence suggest? 
Very simple. It proved the fact of correspondence, and it also 
proved the agreement, the unanimity, of those present with 
Denikin! (Grrr! Grrrr!) 

But there were also direct accusations against those present: 
that they had exchanged information with acquaintances who 
lived in outlying areas (Kiev, for example) which were not under 
the control of the central Soviet authorities! In other words, this 
used to be Russia, let’s say, but then in the interests of world 
revolution we ceded this one piece to Germany. And people 
continued to exchange letters. How are you doing there, Ivan 
Ivanich? Here’s how things are going with us. N. M. Kishkin, 
a member of the Central Committee of the Cadets, was so brazen 
as to try to justify himself right from the defendants’ bench: “A 
man doesn’t want to be blind. He tries to find out ever)rthing he 
can about what’s going on everywhere.” 

To find out everything about what’s going on everywhere? He 
doesn’t want to be blind? Well, all one can say is that the accuser 
correctly described their actions as treason, treason to Soviet 

But their most heinous acts were something else again. In the 
midst of the Civil War they wrote books, composed memoranda 
and projects. Yes, as experts in constitutional law, financial 
science, economic relationships, the system of justice, and educa¬ 
tion, they wrote works! (And, as one might easily guess, their 
works were not based on earlier works by Lenin, Trotsky, and 
Bukharin.) Professor Kotlyarevsky wrote on the federal struc¬ 
ture of Russia; V. I. Stempkovsky on the agrarian question (no 
doubt, without collectivization); V. S. Muralevich on education 
in the future Russia; N. N. Vinogradsky on economics. And the 

The Law as a Child 


(great) biologist N. K. Koltsov (who never received anything 
from the Motherland except persecution and execution) allowed 
all those bourgeois big shots to get together in his institute for 
their discussions. (N. D. Kondratyev was included here also. 
In 1931 he was condemned once and for all in connection with 
TKP—^the fictitious Working Peasants Party.) 

Our accuser’s heart jumps right out of our chest, outrunning 
the sentence. Well, what punishment was adequate for these as¬ 
sistants to the general? Just one, of course— to be shot! That was 
not merely what the accuser demanded—^it was the sentence of 
the tribunal. (Alas, it was later commuted to concentration camp 
until the end of the Civil War.) 

And indeed the defendants’ guilt consisted in the fact that 
they hadn’t sat in their own comers, sucking on their quarter- 
pound of bread; that “they had talked things over and reached 
agreements as to what the state structure should be after the fall 
of the Soviet regime.” 

In contemporary scientific language, this is known as the study 
of the alternative possibility. 

The voice of the accuser thundered, but we hear some kind 
of crack in it. As if his eyes were searching the rostrum, looking 
for another piece of paper? A quotation, perhaps? Give it to 
him on tiptoe, quick, quick! Give him one at random! From some 
other trial? It’s not important! Wasn’t this the one, Nikolai 
Vasilyevich Krylenko? 

“For us . . . the concept of torture inheres in the very fact of 
holding political prisoners in prison. . . .” 

So that’s it! It is torture to keep political prisoners in prison! 
And the accuser said so! What a generous view! A new jurispra- 
dence is arising! And further: 

“. . . Stmggle against the Tsarist government was second 
nature to them [the politicals] and not to struggle against Tsarism 
was something of which they were incapable”^ 

What’s that? They were incapable of not studying alternative 
possibilities? Perhaps thinking was first nature to the intellectual? 

Alas, through stupidity, they had shoved the wrong quotation 
at him. Now wasn’t Aat a mix-up for you! But Nikolai Vasilyevich 
was already off to the races. 

“And even if the defendants here in Moscow did not lift a 

63. Ibid., p. 17. 


finger [and it looks very much as though that’s the way it was] 
at such a moment, nevertheless . . . even a conversation over a 
teacup as to the kind of system that should replace the Soviet 
system, which is allegedly about to fall, is a counterrevolutionary 
act. . . . During the Civil War not only is any kind of action 
[against Soviet power] a crime . . . but the fact of inaction is also 

Well, now everything is comprehensible, everything is clear. 
They are being sentenced to death—^for inaction. For a cup of 

The Petrograd intellectuals, for example, decided that in the 
event of Yudenich’s taking the city, they would first of all “con¬ 
cern themselves with convening a democratic municipal Duma.” 
(In other words, to safeguard the city against a possible dictator¬ 

Krylenko: “I would like to shout at them: ‘It was your duty 
to think first of aU how you might die in battle, so as not to allow 
Yudenich into the city!’ ” 

But they didn’t die in battle. 

(Nor, in fact, did Nikolai Vasilyevich Krylenko.) 

In addition, there were certain defendants who knew about 
all this talk and yet kept silent, did not write denunciations. (In 
our contemporary lingo: “He knew, but he didn’t tell.”) 

And here is another real example not merely of inaction but 
of actively criminal action. Through L. N. Khrushcheva, a 
member of the Political Red Cross (and there she was, on the 
defendants^ bench), some of the other defendants had raised 
money to help the Butyrki prisoners. (One can just picture that 
flood of capital—^pouring into the prison commissary!) And they 
had supplied various articles too. (Yes, indeed. Just look. 
Woolens, too, perhaps?) 

There were no bounds to their evil-doing! Nor would there be 
any limits to their proletarian punishment! 

As when a cinema projector starts slowing down, twenty-eight 
prerevolutionary male and female faces flicker past us in a film 
that’s fuzzy and askew. We didn’t notice their expressions! Were 
they frightened? Contemptuous? Proud? 

We don’t have their answers! Their last words are missing— 

64. Ibid. 

The Law as a Child \ 333 

because of “technical considerations.” But, making up for this 
lack, the accuser croons to us; “From be^nning to end, it was 
self-flagellation and repentance for the mistakes they committed. 
The political instability and the interim nature of the intel¬ 
ligentsia . . . [yes, yes, here comes another one: interim nature] 
completely justified that Marxist evaluation of the intelligentsia 
made by the Bolsheviks.”*® 

I don’t know. Perhaps they did engage in self-flagellation. 
Perhaps they didn’t. Perhaps the passion to save one’s life at any 
cost had already come into being. Perhaps the old dignity of 
the intelligentsia had still been maintained. ... I don’t know. 

Who was that young woman flashing past? 

That was Tolstoi’s daughter, Alexandra. Krylenko asked her: 
“What did you do during these conversations?” And she an¬ 
swered: “I attended to the samovar.” Three years of concentra¬ 
tion camp! 

And who was that man over there? His face was familiar. It 
was Savva Morozov. But listen here: after aU, he gave the 
Bolsheviks all that money! And now he has handed a little to 
these people? Three years in prison, but released on probation. 
Let that be a lesson to him!*® 

And that’s how the sun of our freedom rose. It was as just 
such a well-nourished little imp that our Octobrist child—^Law— 
began to grow. 

Today we don’t remember this at all. 

65. Ibid., p. 8. 

66. He would soon cut his own throat. 

Chapter 9 

The Law Becomes a Man 

Our review has already grown. Yet we have in fact hardly 
begun. All the big and famous trials are still ahead of us. But 
their basic lines have already been indicated. 

So let us stick with our Law while it is still in its boy scout 

Let us recall one long-forgotten case which was not even 

F. The Case of Glavtop—^May, 1921 

This case was important because it involved engineers —or, 
as they had been christened in the terminology of the times, 
“specialists,” or spetsy. (Glavtop was the Main Fuels Committee.) 

Nineteen twenty-one was the most difficult of all the four 
winters of the Civil War; nothing was left for fuel, and trains 
simply couldn’t get to the next station; and there were cold and 
famine in the capitals, and a wave of strikes in the factories— 
strikes which, incidentally, have been completely wiped out of 
our history books by now. Who was to blame? That was a famous 
question: Who is to blame? 

Well, obviously, not the Over-All Leadership. And not even 
the local leadership. That was important. If the “comrades who 
were often brought in from outside”—^i.e., the Communist leaders 
—did not have a correct grasp of the business at hand, then it was. 


The Law Becomes a Man 


the engineers, or spetsy, who were supposed to “outline for them 
the correct approach to the problem.”^ And this meant that “it 
was not the leaders who were to blame. . . . Those who had 
worked out the calculations were to blame, those who had re¬ 
figured the calculations, those who had calculated the plan”— 
which consisted of how to produce food and heat with zeros. 
Those to blame weren’t the ones who compelled but the ones 
who calculated! If the planning turned out to be inflated, the 
spetsy were the ones to blame. Because the figures did not jibe, 
“this was the fault of the spetsy, not of the Council of Labor and 
Defense” and “not even of the responsible men in charge of 
Glavtop—the Main Fuels Committee.”^ 

If there was no coal, firewood, or petroleum, it was because 
the spetsy had “brought about a mixed-up, chaotic situation.” 
And it was their own fault that they hadn’t resisted the urgent 
telephonograms from Rykov and the government—and had 
issued and allotted fuels outside the scope of the plan. 

The spetsy were to blame for everything. But the proletarian 
court was not merciless with them. Their sentences were lenient. 
Of course, an inner hostility to those cursed spetsy remains in 
proletarian hearts—^but one can’t get along without them; every¬ 
thing goes to rack and ruin. And the tribunal doesn’t persecute 
them, and Krylenko even says that from 1920 on “there is no 
question of any sabotage.” The spetsy are to blame, but not 
out of malice on their part; it’s simply because they are inept; 
they aren’t able to do any better; under capitalism, they hadn’t 
learned to work, or else they were simply egotists and bribe-takers. 

And so, at the beginning of the reconstruction period, a sur¬ 
prising tendency toward leniency could be observed in regard to 
the engineers. 

The year 1922, the first year of peace, was rich in public trials, 
so rich that almost this entire chapter will be devoted to that 
year alone. (People are surprised: the war has ended, and yet 
there is an increase in court activity? But in 1945, too, and in 
1948, the Dragon became very, very energetic. Is there not, per¬ 
haps, a simple sort of law in this?) 

1. Krylenko, Za Pyat Let, p. 381. 

2. Ibid,, pp. 382-383. 


Although in December, 1921, the Ninth Congress of the 
Soviets decreed that the authority of the Cheka be narrowed^ 
and, in consequence, its authority was indeed narrowed and it 
was renamed the GPU, as early as October, 1922, the powers 
of the GPU were broadened again, and in December Dzerzhinsky 
told a Pravda correspondent: “Now we need to keep watch 
with particular vigilance over anti-Soviet currents and group¬ 
ings. The GPU has reduced its apparatus but strengthened it in 
terms of quality”* 

And, at the beginning of 1922, we must not bypass: 

G. The Case of the Suicide of Eng^eer Oldenhoi^er 
(Tried before the Yerkhtrib—^the Supreme Tribiraal 
—^in February, 1922) 

This case is forgotten, insignificant, and totally atypical. It 
was atypical because its entire scale was that of a single life that 
had already ended. And if that life hadn’t ended, it would have 
been that very engineer, yes, and ten more with him, forming a 
Center, who would have sat before the Verkhtrib; in that event 
the case would have been altogether typical. But as it was, an 
outstanding Party comrade, Sedelnikov, sat on the defendants’ 
bench and, with him, two members of the RKI—^the Workers’ 
and Peasants’ Inspection—and two trade-union oflBcials. 

But, like Chekhov’s far-off broken harp-string, there was 
something plaintive in this trial; it was, in its own way, an early 
predecessor of the Shakhty and Promparty trials. 

V. V. Oldenborger had worked for thirty years in the Moscow 
water-supply system and had evidently become its chief engineer 
back at the beginning of the century. Even though the Silver 
Age of arc four State Dumas, three wars, and three revolutions 
had come and gone, all Moscow drank Oldenborger’S water; The 
Acmeists and the Futurists, the reactionaries and the revolution¬ 
aries, the military cadets and the Red Guards, the Council of 
People’s Commissars, the Cheka, and the Workers’ and Peasants’ 
Inspection—^all had drunk Oldenborger’s pure cold water. He 
had never married and he had no children. His whole life had 
consisted of that one water-supply system. In 1905 he refused 

3. Sobraniye Uzakonenii RSFSR (Collection of Decrees of the R.S.F.S.R.), 
1922, No. 4, p. 42. 

4. Pravda^ December 17, 1922. 

The Law Becomes a Man \ 337 

to permit the soldiers of the guard near the water-supply conduits 
—^‘‘because the soldiers, out of clumidness, might bre^ the pipes 
or machinery.” On the second day of the February Revolution 
he said to his workers that that was enough, the revolution was 
over, and they should all go back to their jobs; the water must 
flow. And during the October fighting in Moscow, he had only 
one concern: to safeguard the water-supply system. His col¬ 
leagues went on strike in answer to the Bolshevik coup d’etat 
and invited him to take part in the strike with them. His reply 
was: “On the operational side, please forgive me, I am not on 
strike. ... In everything else, I—^well, yes, I am on strike.” He 
accepted money for the strikers from the strike committee, and 
gave them a receipt, but he himself dashed off to get a sleeve to 
repair a broken pipe. 

But despite this, he was an enemy? Here’s wbat he had said 
to one of the workers: “The Soviet regime won’t last two weeks.” 
(There was a new political situation preceding the announcement 
of the New Economic Policy, and in this context Krylenko could 
allow himself some frank t^ before the Verkhtrib: “It was not 
only the spetsy who thought that way at the time. That is what 
we ourselves thought more than once.”) 

But despite this, Oldenborger was an enemy! Just as Comrade 
'Lenin had told us: to keep watch over the bourgeois sipecialists 
we need a watchdog—^the RKI—^the Workers’ and Peasants’ 

They began by assigning two such watchdogs to Oldenborger 
on a full-time basis. (One of them, Makarov-Zemlyansky, a 
swindler and a former clerk in the water system, had been .&ed 
“for improper conduct” and had entered the service of the RKI 
“because they paid better.” He got promoted to the Central 
People’s Commissariat because “the pay there was even better”— 
and, from that height, he had returned to check up on his former 
chief and .take .hearty vengeance on the man who had wronged 
him.) Then, of course, the local Party committee—^that match¬ 
less defender of the workers’ interests—^wasn’t dozing either. And 
Communists were put in charge of the water system. “Only 
workers are to hold the top positions; there are to be only 
Communists at leadership level; and .the wisdom of this view was 
confirmed by the given trial.”® 

5. Krylenko, op. cit.; p. 433. 


The Moscow Party organization also kept its eyes on the water- 
supply system. (And behind it stood the Cheka.) “In our own 
time we built our army on the basis of a healthy feeling of class 
enmity; in its name, we do not entrust even one responsible posi¬ 
tion to people who do not belong to our camp, without assigning 
them ... a commissar.”* And so, they all immediately began to 
order the chief engineer about, to supervise him, to give him 
instructions, and to shift the engineering personnel around with¬ 
out his knowledge. (“They broke up the whole nest of business¬ 

But they did not, even so, safeguard the water-supply system. 
Things didn’t go better with it, but worse! So slyly had that gang 
of engineers contrived to carry out an evil scheme. Even more: 
overcoming his intellectual’s interim nature, as a result of which 
he had never in his life expressed himself sharply, Oldenborger 
made so bold as to describe as stupid stubbornness the actions 
of the new chief of the water-supply system, Zenyuk (to Kry¬ 
lenko, “a profoundly likable person on the basis of his internal 

It was at this point that it became clear that “engineer Olden¬ 
borger was consciously betraying the interests of the workers and 
that he was a direct and open enemy of the dictatorship of the 
working class.” They started bringing inspection commissions 
into the water-supply system, but the commissions found that 
everything was in good order and that water was being supplied 
on a normal basis. The RKI men, the “rabkrinovtsy,” refused to 
be satisfied with this. They kept pouring report after report into 
the RKI. Oldenborger simply wanted to “ruin, spoil, break down 
the water-supply system for political purposes,” but he was unable 
to. Well, they put what obstacles in his way that they could; 
they prevented wasteful boiler repairs and replacing the wooden 
tanks with concrete ones. At meetings of the water-supply-system 
workers, the leaders began saying openly that their chief engineer 
was the “soul of organized technical sabotage” and that he 
should not be believed, that he should be resisted at every point. 

Despite all this, the operation of the water-supply system not 
only didn’t improve, but deteriorated. 

What was particularly offensive to the “hereditary proletarian 

6. Ibid., p. 434. 

The Law Becomes a Man \ 339 

psychology” of the officials of the Workers’ and Peasants’ Inspec¬ 
tion and of the trade unions was that the majority of the workers 
at the pumping stations “had been infected with petty-bourgeois 
psychology” and, unable to recognize Oldenbo.rger’s sabotage, had 
come to his defense. At this point, elections to the Moscow Soviet 
were being held and the workers nominated Oldenborger as the 
candidate of the water-supply system, against whom, of course, 
the Party cell backed its own Party candidate. However, this 
turned out to be futile because of the chief engineer’s fraudulent 
authority with the workers. Nonetheless, the Party cell brought up 
the question with the District Party Committee, on all levels, and 
announced at a general meeting that “Oldenborger is the center 
and soul of sabotage, and will be our political enemy in the 
Moscow Soviet!” The workers responded with an uproar and 
shouts of “Untrue! Lies!” And at that point the secretary of the 
Party Committee, Comrade Sedelnikov, flung right in the faces 
of the thousand-headed proletariat there: “I am not even going 
to talk to such Black Hundred, reactionary pogrom-makers.” 
That is to say: We’ll talk to you somewhere else. 

Party measures were also taken: they expelled the chief 
engineer from—^no less—the collegium for administration of the 
water system, and kept him under constant investigation; con¬ 
tinually summoned him before a multitude of commissions and 
subcommissions; kept interrogating him and giving him as¬ 
signments that were to be urgently carried out. Every time he 
failed to appear, it was entered in ffie record “in case of a future 
trial.” And through the Council of Labor and Defense (Chair¬ 
man—Comrade Lenin) they got an “Extraordinaiy Troika” 
appointed to the water system. (It consisted of representatives of 
the RKI, the Council of Trade Unions, and Comrade Kuibyshev.) 

And for the fourth year the water kept right on flowing through 
the pipes. And Muscovites kept on drinking it and didn’t notice 
any^ng wrong. 

Then Comrade Sedelnikov wrote an article for the newspaper 
Ekonomicheskaya Zhizn: “In view of the rumors disturbing the 
public in regard to the catastrophic state of the water mains .. 
and he reported many new and alarming rumors—even that the 
water system was pumping water underground and was intention¬ 
ally washing away the foundations of all Moscow” (Set there 
by Ivan Kalita in the fourteenth century.) They summoned a 


Commission of the Moscow Soviet. The Commission found that 
the “state of the water system was satisfactory and that its techni¬ 
cal direction was efficient.” Oldenborger denied all the accusa¬ 
tions. And then Sedelnikov placidly declared; “I had set myself 
the task of stirring up a fuss about this matter in order to get the 
question of the spetsy taken up.” 

What remained for the leaders of the workers to do at this 
point? What was the final, infallible method? A denunciation to 
the Cheka! Sedelnikov resorted to just that! He “painted a picture 
of the conscious wrecking of the water system by Oldenborger.” 
He did not have the slightest doubt that “a counterrevolutionary 
organization” existed “in the water system, in the heart of Red 
Moscow.” And, furthermore, a catastrophic situation at the 
Rublevo water tower! 

At this point, Oldenborger was guilty of a tactless act of rude¬ 
ness, the outburst of a spineless, interim intellectual. They had 
refused to authorize his order for new boilers from abroad— 
and at the time, in Russia, it was quite impossible to fix the old 
ones. So Oldenborger committed suicide. (It had been just too 
much for one man—after all, he hadn’t undergone the condition¬ 
ing for that sort of thing.) 

The cause was not lost, however. They could find a counter¬ 
revolutionary organization without him. RKI men would now 
undertake to expose the whole thing. Some concealed maneuver¬ 
ing went on for two months. But such was the spirit at the 
beginning of the NEP that “a lesson had to be taught both one 
side and the other.” So there was a trial in the Supreme Tribunal. 
Krylenko was moderately severe. Krylenko was moderately merci¬ 
less. He was understanding: “The Russian worker, of course, was 
right to see in eveiy person not of his own class someone more 
likely to be an enemy than a friend.”^ Nevertheless: “Given 
the further change in our practical and general policy, perhaps 
we must be prepared for still greater concessions, for retreating 
and maneuvering. Perhaps the Party will be forced to adopt a 
tactical progr^ of action which the primitive logic of honest, 
dedicated warriors is going to protest.”® 

Well, it’s a fact, the workers who testified against Comrade 

The Law Becomes a Man \ 341 

Sedelnikov and the RKI men were “easily brushed off” by the 
tribunal. And the defendant Sedelnikov replied brazenly to the 
threats of the accuser. “Comrade Krylenko! I know all those 
articles. But after all, no one is judging class enemies here, and 
those articles relate to class enemies.” 

However, Krylenko laid it on good and thick. Deliberately 
false denunciations to state institutions ... in circumstances 
aggravating guilt, such as a personal grudge and the settling of 
personal accounts ... the abuse of an official position ... political 
irresponsibility ... abuse of power and of the authority of govern¬ 
ment officials and members of the Russian Communist Party 
(Bolsheviks) . . . disorganization of the work of the water- 
supply system . . . injury done the Moscow Soviet and Soviet 
Russia, because there were few such specialists, and it was im¬ 
possible to find replacements for them. “And we won’t even 
begin to speak of the individual, personal loss. ... In our time, 
when struggle is the chief content of our lives, we have somehow 
grown used to not counting these irrevocable losses.”® The 
Supreme Revolutionary Tribunal must utter its weighty word: 
“Punishment must be assessed with all due severity! . . . We 
didn’t come here just to crack jokes.” 

Good Lord, now what are they going to get? Could it really 
be? My reader has gotten used to prompting: all of them to be 
sh - ! 

And that is absolutely correct. All of them were to be 
publicly shamed—^bearing in mind their sincere repentance! All 
of them to be sentenced to—ostracism and ridicule. 

Two truths . . . 

And Sedelnikov, allegedly, got one year in jail. 

You will just have to forgive me if I don’t believe it. 

Oh, you bards of the twenties, painting your pictures of their 
bright and bubbling happiness! Even those who touched only their 
farthest edge, who touched them only in childhood, will never 
forget them. And those plug-uglies, those fat faces, busy per¬ 
secuting engineers—in the twenties, too, they ate their bellies full. 

And now we see also that they had been busy from 1918 on. 

9. Ibid., p. 458. 


In the two trials following we will take leave of our favorite 
supreme accuser for a while: he is occupied with his preparations 
for the major trial of the SR’s.^® This spectacular trial aroused a 
great deal of emotion in Europe beforehand, and the People’s 
Commissariat of Justice was suddenly taken aback: after all, we 
had been trying people for four years without any code, neither 
a new one nor an old one. And in all probability Krylenko him¬ 
self was concerned about the code too. Everything had to be 
neatly tied up ahead of time. 

The coming church trials were internal. They didn’t interest 
progressive Europe. And they could be conducted without a code. 

We have already had an opportunity to observe that the separa¬ 
tion of church and state was so construed by the state that the 
churches themselves and everything that hung in them, was in¬ 
stalled in them and painted in them, belonged to the state, and 
the only church remaining was that church which, in accordance 
with the Scriptures, lay within the heart. And in 1918, when 
political victory seemed to have been attained faster and more 
easily than had been expected, they had pressed right on to con¬ 
fiscate church property. However, this leap had aroused too 
fierce a wave of popular indignation. In the heat of the Civil 
War, it was not very intelligent to create, in addition, an internal 
front against the believers. And it proved necessary to postpone 
for the time being the dialogue between the Communists and the 

At the end of the Civil War, and as its natural consequence, 
an unprecedented famine developed in the Volga area. They give 
it only two lines in the official histories because it doesn’t add a 
very ornamental touch to the wreaths of the victors in that war. 
But the famine existed nonetheless—to the point of cannibalism, 
to the point at which parents ate their own children—such a 
famine as even Russia had never known, even in the Time of 
Troubles in the early seventeenth century. (Because at that time, 
as the historians testify, unthreshed ricks of grain survived intact 

10. The provincial trials of the SR’s took place even earlier, such as the 
one in Saratov in 1919. 

The Law Becomes a Man \ 343 

beneath the snow and ice for several years.) Just one film about 
famine might throw a new light on everything we saw and 
everything we know about the Revolution and the Civil War. 
But there are no films and no novels and no statistical re¬ 
search—^the effort is to forget it. It does not embellish. Besides, 
we have come to blame the kulaks as the cause of every famine— 
and just who were the kulaks in the midst of such collective 
death? V. G. Korolenko, in his Letters to Lunacharsky (which, 
despite Lunacharsky’s promise, were never officially published 
in the Soviet Union),“ explains to us Russia’s total, epidemic 
descent into famine and destitution. It was the result of pro¬ 
ductivity having been reduced to zero (the working hands 
were all carrying guns) and the result, also, of the peasants’ 
utter lack of trust and hope that even the smallest part of the 
harvest might be left for them. Yes, and someday someone will 
also count up those many carloads of food supplies rolling on and 
on for many, many months to Imperial Germany, under the 
terms of the peace treaty of Brest-Litovsk—^from a Russia which 
had been deprived of a protesting voice, from the very provinces 
where famine would strike—so that Germany could fight to the 
end in the West. 

There was a direct, immediate chain of cause and effect. The 
Volga peasants had to eat their children because we were so 
impatient about putting up with the Constituent Assembly. 

But political genius lies in extracting success even from the 
people’s ruin. A brilliant idea was bom: after all, three billiard 
balls can be pocketed with one shot. So now let the priests feed 
the Volga region! They are Christians. They are generous! 

1. If they refuse, we will blame the whole famine on them 
and destroy the church. 

2. If they agree, we will clean out the churches. 

3. In either case, we will replenish our stocks of foreign ex¬ 
change and precious metals. 

Yes, and the idea was probably inspired by the actions of the 
church itself. As Patriarch Tikhon himself had testified, back in 
August, 1921, at the beginning of the famine, the church had 

11. Published in Paris in 1922, and in the Soviet Union in samizdat in 1967. 


created diocesan and all-Russian committees for aid to the starv¬ 
ing and had begun to collect funds. But to have permitted any 
direct help to go straight from the church into the mouths of 
those who were starving would have undermined the dictatorship 
of the proletariat. The committees were banned, and the funds 
they had collected were confiscated and turned over to the state 
treasury. The Patriarch had also appealed to the Pope in Rome 
and to the Archbishop of Canterbury for assistance—but he was 
rebuked for this, too, on the grounds that only the Soviet au¬ 
thorities had the right to enter into discussions with foreigners. 
Yes, indeed. And what was there to be alarmed about? The news¬ 
papers wrote that the government itself had all the necessary 
means to cope with the famine. 

Meanwhile, in the Volga region they were eating grass, the 
soles of shoes, and gnawing at door jambs. And, finally, in Decem¬ 
ber, 1921, Pomgol—the State Commission for Famine Relief 
—^proposed that the churches help the starving by donating church 
valuables—^not all, but those not required for liturgical rites. 
The Patriarch agreed. Pomgol issued a directive: all gifts must 
be strictly voluntary! On Febraury 19, 1922, the Patriarch issued 
a pastoral letter permitting the parish councils to make gifts of 
objects that did not have liturgical and ritual significance. 

And in this way matters could again have simply degenerated 
into a compromise that would have frustrated the will of the 
proletariat, just as it once had been by the Constituent Assembly, 
and still was in all the chatterbox European parliaments. 

The thought came in a stroke of lightning! The thought came— 
and a decree followed! A decree of the All-Russian Central Execu¬ 
tive Committee on February 26: all valuables were to be requisi¬ 
tioned from the churches—for the starving! 

The Patriarch wrote to Kalinin, who did not reply. Then on 
February 28 the Patriarch issued a new, fateful pastoral letter: 
from the church’s point of view such a measure is sacrilege, and 
we cannot approve the requisition. 

From the distance of a half-century, it is easy to reproach the 
Patriarch. Of course, the leaders of the Christian church ought 
not to have been distracted by wondering whether other resources 
might not be available to the Soviet government, and who it was 
who had driven the Volga to famine. They ought not to have 

The Law Becomes a Man \ 345 

clung to those treasures, since the possibility of a new fortress of 
faith arising—^if it existed at all—did not depend on them. But 
one has also to picture the situation of that unfortunate Patriarch, 
not elected to his post until after the October Revolution, who had 
for a few short years led a church that was always persecuted, 
restricted, under fire, and whose preservation had been entrusted 
to him. 

But right then and there a sure-fire campaign of persecution 
began in the papers, directed against the Patriarch and high 
church authorities who were strangling the Volga region with the 
bony hand of famine. And the more firmly the Patriarch clung to 
his position, the weaker it became. In March a movement to re¬ 
linquish the valuables, to come to an agreement with the govern¬ 
ment, began even among the clergy. Their still undispelled qualms 
were expressed to Kalinin by Bishop Antonin Granovsky, a mem¬ 
ber of the Central Committee of Pomgol: “The believers fear that 
the church valuables may be used for other purposes, more 
limited and alien to their hearts.” (Knowing the general principles 
of our Progressive Doctrine, the experienced reader will agree that 
this was indeed very probable. After all, the Comintern’s needs 
and those of the East in the course of being liberated were no less 
acute than those of the Volga.) 

The Petrograd Metropolitan, Veniamin, was similarly impelled 
by a mood of trust: “This belongs to God and we will give all of 
it by ourselves.” But forced requisitions were wrong. Let the 
sacrifice be of our own free will. He, too, wanted verification by 
the clergy and the believers: to watch over the church valuables 
up to the very moment when they were transformed into bread for 
the starving. And in all this he was tormented lest he violate the 
censuring will of the Patriarch. 

In Petrograd things seemed to be working out peacefully. The 
atmosphere at the session of the Petrograd Pomgol on March 5, 
1922, was even joyful, according to the testimony of an eye¬ 
witness. Veniamin announced: “The Orthodox Church is pre¬ 
pared to give everything to help the starving.” It saw sacrilege 
only in forced requisition. But in that case requisition was im- 
necessary! Kanatchikov, Chairman of the Petrograd Pomgol, 
gave his assurances that this would produce a favorable attitude 
toward the church on the part of the Soviet government. (Not 


very likely, that!) In a burst of good feeling, everyone stood up. 
The Metropolitan said; “The heaviest burden is division and 
enmity. But the time will come when the Russian people will 
unite. I myself, at the head of the worshipers, will remove the 
cover [of precious metals and precious stones] from the ikon of 
the Holy Virgin of Kazan. I will shed sweet tears on it and give 
it away.” He gave his blessing to the Bolshevik members of 
Pomgol and they saw him to the door with bared heads. The 
newspaper Petrogradskaya Pravda, in its issues of March 8, 9, 
and 10,^^ confirmed the peaceful, successful outcome of the talks, 
and spoke favorably of the Metropolitan. “In Smolny they agreed 
that the church vessels and ikon coverings would be melted down 
into ingots in the presence of the believers.” 

Again things were getting fouled up with some kind of com¬ 
promise! The noxious fumes of Christianity were poisoning the 
revolutionary will. That kind of unity and that way of handing 
over the valuables were not what the starving people of the Volga 
needed! The spineless membership of the Petrograd Pomgol was 
changed. The newspapers began to howl about the “evil pastors” 
and “princes of the church,” and the representatives of the church 
were told: “We don’t need your donations! And there won’t be 
any negotiations with you! Everything belongs to the government 
—and the government will take whatever it considers necessary.” 

And so forcible requisitions, accompanied by strife, began in 
Petrograd, as they did everywhere else. 

And this provided the legal basis for initiating trials of the 

H. The Moscow Church Trial—^April 26-May 7, 1922 

This took place in the Polytechnic Museum. The court was the 
Moscow Revtribunal, under Presiding Judge Bek; the prosecutors 
were Lunin and Longinov. There were seventeen defendants, 
including archpriests and laymen, accused of disseminating the 
Patriarch’s proclamation. This charge was more important than 

12. See the articles entitled ‘Tserkov i Golod” (“The Church and the 
Famine”) and “Kak budut izyaty tserkovnye tsennosti” (“How the Church 
Valuables Will Be Requisitioned”). 

13. I have taken this material from Ocherki po Istorii Tserkovnoi Smuty 
{Essays on the History of the Troubles of the Church), by Anatoly Levitin, 
Part I, samizdat, 1962, and from the stenographic notes on the questioning of 
Patriarch Tikhon, Trial Record, Vol. V. 

The Law Becomes a Man \ 347 

the question of surrendering, or not surrendering, church valu¬ 
ables. Archpriest A. N. Zaozersky had surrendered all the 
valuables in his own church, but he defended in principle the 
Patriarch’s appeal regarding forced requisition as sacrilege, and 
he became the central personage in the trial—and would shortly 
be shot. (All of which went to prove that what was important was 
not to feed the starving but to make use of a convenient opportu¬ 
nity to break the back of the church.) 

On May 5 Patriarch Tikhon was summoned to the tribunal as 
a witness. Even though the public was represented only by a 
carefully selected audience (1922, in this respect, differing little 
from 1937 and 1968), nonetheless the stamp of Old Russia was 
still so deep, and the Soviet stamp was still so superficial, that on 
the Patriarch’s entrance more than half of those present rose to 
receive his blessing. 

Tikhon took on himself the entire blame for writing and dis¬ 
seminating his appeal. The presiding judge of the tribunal tried 
to elicit a different line of testimony from him: “But it isn’t pos¬ 
sible! Did you really write it in your own hand? All the lines? 
You probably just signed it. And who actually wrote it? And who 
were your advisers?” and then: “Why did you mention in the 
appeal the persecution to which the newspapers are subjecting 
you? [After all, they are persecuting you and why should we 
hear about it?] What did you want to express?” 

The Patriarch: “That is something you will have to ask the 
people who started the persecution: What objectives were they 

The Presiding Judge: “But that after all has nothing to do with 

The Patriarch: “It has historical significance.” 

The Presiding Judge: “Referring to the fact that the decree was 
published while you were in the midst of talks with Pomgol, you 
used the expression, behind your back?" 

The Patriarch: “Yes.” 

Presiding Judge: “You therefore consider that the Soviet gov¬ 
ernment acted incorrectly?” 

A crushing argument! It will be repeated a million times more 
in the nighttime offices of interrogators! And we will never answer 
as simply and straightforwardly as: 

The Patriarch: “Yes.” 


The Presiding Judge: “Do you consider the state’s laws ob¬ 
ligatory or not?” 

The Patriarch: “Yes, I recognize them, to the extent that they 
do not contradict the rules of piety.” 

(Oh, if only everyone had answered just that way! Our whole 
history would have been different.) 

A debate about church law followed. The Patriarch explained 
that if the church itself surrendered its valuables, it was not 
sacrilege. But if they were taken away against the church’s will, 
it was. His appeal had not prohibited giving the valuables at all, 
but had only declared that seizing them against the will of the 
church was to be condemned. 

(But that’s what we wanted—expropriation against the will 
of the church!) 

Comrade Bek, the presiding judge, was astounded: “Which in 
the last analysis is more important to you—^the laws of the church 
or the point of view of the Soviet government?” 

(The expected reply: “The Soviet government.”) 

“Very well; so it was sacrilege according to the laws of the 
church,” exclaimed the accuser, “but what was it from the point 
of view of mercy?” 

(For the first and last time—for another fifty years—that banal 
word mercy was spoken before a tribunal.) 

Then there was a philological analysis of the word “svyato- 
tatstvo,” meaning “sacrilege,” derived from “svyato,” meaning 
“holy,” and “tat,” meaning “thief.” 

The Accuser: “So that means that we, the representatives of 
the Soviet government, are thieves of holy things?” 

(A prolonged uproar in the hall. A recess. The bailiffs at 

The Accuser: “So you call the representatives of the Soviet 
government, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, 

The Patriarch: “I am citing only church law.” 

Then there is a discussion of the term “blasphemy.” While they 
were requisitioning the valuables from the church of St. Basil 
the Great of Caesarea, the ikon cover would not fit into a box, 
and at that point they trampled it with their feet. But the Patri¬ 
arch himself had not been present. 

The Law Becomes a Man \ 349 

The Accuser: “How do you know that? Give us the name of 
the priest who told you that. [And we will arrest him immedi¬ 

The Patriarch does not give the name. 

That means it was a lie! 

The Accuser presses on triumphantly: “No, who spread that 
repulsive slander?” 

The Presiding Judge: “Give us the names of those who 
trampled the ikon cover! [One can assume that after doing it they 
left Aeir visiting cards!] Otherwise the tribunal cannot believe 

The Patriarch cannot name them. 

The Presiding Judge: “That means you have made an unsub¬ 
stantiated assertion.” 

It still remained to be proved that the Patriarch wanted to 
overthrow the Soviet government. And here is how it was proved: 
“Propaganda is an attempt to prepare a mood preliminary to 
preparing a revolt in the future.” 

The tribunal ordered criminal charges to be brought against 
the Patriarch. 

On May 7 sentence was pronounced: of the seventeen defen¬ 
dants, eleven were to be shot. (They actually shot five.) 

As Krylenko said: “We didn’t come here just to crack jokes.” 

One week later the Patriarch was removed from office and 
arrested. (But this was not the very end. For the time being he 
was taken to the Donskoi Monastery and kept there in strict in¬ 
carceration, so that the believers would grow accustomed to his 
absence. Remember how just a short while before Krylenko had 
been astonished: what danger could possibly threaten the Patri¬ 
arch? Truly, when the danger really does come, there’s no help 
for it, either in alarm bells or in telephone calls.) 

Two weeks after that, the Metropolitan Veniamin was arrested 
in Petrograd. He had not been a high official of the church before 
the Revolution. Nor had he even been appointed, like almost all 
Metropolitans. In the spring of 1917, for the first time since the 
days of ancient Novgorod the Great, they had elected a Metro¬ 
politan in Moscow and in Petrograd. A gentle, simple, easily 
accessible man, a frequent visitor in factories and mills, popular 
with the people and with the lower clergy, Veniamin had been 


elected by their votes. Not understanding the times, he had seen 
as his task the liberation of the church from politics “because it 
had suffered much from politics in the past.” This was the Metro¬ 
politan who was tried in: 

I. The Petrograd Church Trial—June 9-July 5, 1922 

The defendants, charged with resisting the requisition of church 
valuables, numbered several dozen in all, including a professor 
of theology and church law, archimandrites, priests, and laymen. 
Semyonov, the presiding judge of the tribunal, was twenty-five 
years old and, according to rumor, had formerly been a baker. 
The chief accuser was a member of the collegium of the People’s 
Commissariat of Justice, P. A. Krasikov—a man of Lenin’s age 
and a friend of Lenin when he was in exile in the Krasnoyarsk 
region and, later on, in emigration as well. Vladimir Ilyich used 
to enjoy hearing him play the violin. 

Out on Nevsky Prospekt, and at the Nevsky turn-off, a dense 
crowd waited every day of the trial, and when the Metropolitan 
was driven past, many of them knelt down and sang: “Save, O 
Lord, thy people!” (It goes without saying that they arrested 
overzealous believers right on the street and in the court building 
also.) Most of the spectators in the court were Red Army men, 
but even they rose every time the Metropolitan entered in his 
white ecclesiastical hood. Yet the accuser and the tribunal called 
him an enemy of the people. Let us note that this term already 

From trial to trial, things closed in on the defense lawyers, and 
their humiliating predicament was already very apparent. Kry¬ 
lenko tells us nothing about this, but the gap is closed by an eye¬ 
witness. The tribunal roared out a threat to arrest Bobrishchev- 
Pushkin himself —the principal defense lawyer—and this was 
already so in accord with the spirit of the times, and the threat 
was so real that Bobrishchev-Pushkin made haste to hand over his 
gold watch and his billfold to lawyer Gurovich. And right then 
and there the tribunal actually ordered the imprisonment of a 
witness. Professor Yegorov, because of his testimony on behalf 
of the Metropolitan. As it turned out, Yegorov was quite pre¬ 
pared for this. He had a thick briefcase with him in which he had 
packed food, underwear, and even a small blanket. 

The Law Becomes a Man \ 351 

The reader can observe that the court was gradually assuming 
forms familiar to us. 

Metropolitan Veniamin was accused of entering, with evil 
intent, into an agreement with . . . the Soviet government, no 
less, and thereby obtaining a relaxation of the decree on the 
requisition of valuables. It was charged that his appeal to Pomgol 
had been maliciously disseminated among the people. (Samizdat! 
—self-publication!) And he had also acted in concert with the 
world bourgeoisie. 

Priest Krasnitsky, one of the principal “Living Church” schis¬ 
matics, and GPU collaborator, testified that the priests had con¬ 
spired to provoke a revolt against the Soviet government on the 
grounds of famine. 

The only witnesses heard were those of the prosecution. De¬ 
fense witnesses were not permitted to testify. (Oh, how familiar 
it all is! More and more!) 

Accuser Smirnov demanded “sixteen heads.” Accuser Krasikov 
cried out: “The whole Orthodox Church is a subversive organiza¬ 
tion. Properly speaking, the entire church ought to be put in 

(This was a very realistic program. Soon it was almost realized. 
And it was a good basis for a dialogue.) 

Let us make use of a rather rare opportunity to cite several 
sentences that have been preserved from the speech of S. Y. 
Gurovich, who was the Metropolitan’s defense attorney. 

“There are no proofs of guilt. There are no facts. There is not 
even an indictment. . . . What will history say? [Oh, he certainly 
had discovered how to frighten them! History will forget and say 
nothing!] The requisition of church valuables in Petrograd took 
place in a complete calm, but here the Petrograd clergy is on the 
defendants’ bench, and somebody’s hands keep pushing them 
toward death. The basic principle which you stress is the good 
of the Soviet government. But do not forget that the church will 
be nourished by the blood of martyrs. [Not in the Soviet Union, 
though!] There is nothing more to be said, but it is hard to stop 
talking. While the debate lasts, the defendants are alive. When 
the debate comes to an end, life will end too.” 

The tribunal condemned ten of them to death. They waited 
more than a month for their execution, until the trial of the SR’s 


had ended. (It was as though they had processed them in order 
to shoot them at the same time as the SR’s.) And after that, 
VTsIK, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee, pardoned 
six of them. And four of them—the Metropolitan Veniamin; the 
Archimandrite Sergius, a former member of the State Duma; 
Professor of Law Y. P. Novitsky; and the barrister Kovsharov— 
were shot on the night of August 12-13. 

We insistently urge our readers not to forget the principle of 
provincial multiplicity. Where two church trials were held in 
Moscow and Petrograd, there were twenty-two in the provinces. 

They were in a big hurry to produce a Criminal Code in time for 
the trial of the SR’s—^the Socialist Revolutionaries. The time had 
come to set in place the granite foundation stones of the Law. 
On May 12, as had been agreed, the session of VTsIK convened, 
but the projected Code had not yet been completed. It had only 
just been delivered for analysis to Vladimir Ilyich Lenin at his 
Gorki estate outside Moscow. Six articles of the Code provided 
for execution by shooting as the maximum punishment. This was 
unsatisfactory. On May 15, on the margins of the draft Code, 
Lenin added six more articles requiring execution by shooting 
(including—under Article 69—propaganda and agitation, par¬ 
ticularly in the form of an appeal for passive resistance to the 
government and mass rejection of the obligations of military 
service or tax payments).'^ And one other crime that called for 
execution by shooting; unauthorized return from abroad (my, 
how the socialists all used to bob back and forth incessantly!). 
And there was one punishment that was the equivalent of execu¬ 
tion by shooting: exile abroad. Vladimir Ilyich foresaw a time 
not far distant when there would be a constant rush of people 
to the Soviet Union from Europe, and it would be impossible to 
get anyone voluntarily to leave the Soviet Union for the West. 
Lenin went on tO express his principal conclusion to the People’s 
Commissar of Justice: 

14. In other words, like the Vyborg appeal, for which the Tsar’s government 
had imposed sentences of three months’ imprisonment. 

The Law Becomes a Man \ 353 

“Comrade Kursky! In my opinion we ought to extend the use 
of execution by shooting (allowing the substitution of exile 
abroad) to all activities of the Mensheviks, SR’s, etc. We ought 
to find a formulation that would connect these activities with the 
international bourgeoisie'’’^^ (Lenin’s italics.) 

To extend the use of execution by shooting! Nothing left to the 
imagination there! (And did they exile very many?) Terror is a 
method of persuasions^ This, too, could hardly be misunderstood. 

But Kursky, nonetheless, still didn’t get the whole idea. In aU 
probability, what he couldn’t quite work out was a way of formu¬ 
lating that formulation, a way of working in that very matter of 
connection. The next day, he called on the Chairman of the 
Council of People’s Commissars, Lenin, for clarification. We have 
no way of knowing what took place during their conversation. But 
following it up, on May 17, Lenin sent a second letter from 

Comrade Kursky! 

As a sequel to our conversation, I am sending you an outline of a 
supplementary paragraph for the Criminal Code. . . . The basic 
concept, I hope, is clear, notwithstanding all the shortcomings of the 
rough draft: openly to set forth a statute which is both principled and 
politically truthful (and not just juridically narrow) to supply the 
motivation for the essence and the justification of terror, its necessity, 
its Ijmits. 

The court must not exclude terror. It would be self-deception or 
deceit to promise this, and in order to provide it with a foundation 
and to legalize it in a principled way, clearly and without hypocrisy 
and without embellishment, it is necessary to formulate it as broadly 
as possible, for only revolutionary righteousness and a revolutionary 
conscience will provide the conditions for applying it more or less 
broadly in practice. 

With Communist greetings, 


We will not undertake to comment on this important docu¬ 
ment. What it calls for is silence and reflection. 

The document is especially important because it was one of 
Lenin’s last directives on this earA—he had not yet fallen ill— 

15. Lenin, fifth edition, Vol. 45, p. 189. 

16. Ibid., Vol. 39, pp. 404-405. 

17. Ibid., Vol. 45, p. 190. 


and an important part of his political testament. Ten days after 
this letter, he suffered his first stroke, from which he recovered 
only incompletely and temporarily in the autumn months of 1922. 
Perhaps both letters to Kursky were written in that light and 
airy white marble boudoir-study at the corner of the second floor, 
where the future deathbed of the leader already stood waiting. 

Attached to this letter is the rough draft mentioned in it, con¬ 
taining two versions of the supplementary paragraph, out of which 
would grow in a few years’ time both Article 58-4 and all of 
our dear little old mother. Article 58. You read it and you are 
carried away with admiration; that’s what it really means to 
formulate it as broadly as possible! That’s what is meant by 
extending its use. You read and you recollect how broad was 
the embrace of that dear little old mother. 

“. .. propaganda or agitation, or participation in an organiza¬ 
tion, or assistance (objectively assisting or being capable of assist¬ 
ing) .. . organizations or persons whose activity has the charac¬ 
ter ...” 

Hand me St. Augustine, and in a trice I can find room in that 
article for him too. 

Everything was inserted as required; it was retyped; execution 
by shooting was extended—and the session of the All-Russian 
Central Executive Committee adopted the new Criminal Code 
shortly after May 20 and decreed it to be in effect from June 1, 
1922, on. 

And so began, on the most legal basis, the two-month-long 

J. Trial of the SR’s—June 8-August 7, 1922 

The court was the Supreme Tribunal, the Verkhtrib. The usual 
presiding judge. Comrade Karklin (a good name for a judge— 
derived from the word meaning to “croak” or “caw”), was re¬ 
placed for this important trial, which was being watched closely 
by the entire socialist world, by the resourceful Georgi Pyatakov. 
(Provident fate enjoys its little jokes—^but it also leaves us time 
to think things over! It left Pyatakov fifteen years.) There were 
no defense lawyers. The defendants, all leading SR’s, undertook 
their own defense. Pyatakov bore himself harshly, and interfered 
with the defendants’ having their say. 

The Law Becomes a Man | 355 

If my readers and I were not already sufficiently informed to 
know that what was important in every trial was not the charges 
brought nor guilt, so called, but expediency, we would perhaps 
not be prepared to accept this trial wholeheartedly. But expedi¬ 
ency works without fail: the SR’s, as opposed to the Mensheviks, 
were considered still dangerous, not yet dispersed and broken up, 
not yet finished off. And on behalf of the fortress of the newly 
created dictatorship (the proletariat), it was expedient to finish 
them off. 

Someone unfamiliar with this principle might mistakenly view 
the entire trial as an act of Party vengeance. 

Involuntarily one ponders the charges set forth in this trial, 
placing them in the perspective of the long-drawn-out and still 
unfolding history of nations. With the exception of a very limited 
number of parliamentary democracies, during a very limited 
number of decades, the history of nations is entirely a history of 
revolutions and seizures of power. And whoever succeeds in 
making a more successful and more enduring revolution is from 
that moment on graced with the bright robes of Justice, and his 
every past and future step is legalized and memorialized in odes, 
whereas every past and future step of his unsuccessful enemies is 
criminal and subject to arraignment and a legal penalty. 

The Criminal Code had been adopted only one week earlier, 
but five whole years of postrevolutionary experience had been 
compressed into it. Twenty, ten, and five years earlier, the SR’s 
had been the party next door in the effort to overthrow Tsarism, 
the party which had chiefly taken upon itself, thanks to the 
particular character of its terrorist tactics, the burden of hard- 
labor imprisonment, which had scarcely touched the Bolsheviks. 

Now the first charge against them was that the SR’s had in¬ 
itiated the Civil War! Yes, they began it, they had begun it. They 
were accused of armed resistance to the October seizure of power. 
When the Provisional Government, which they supported and 
which was in part made up of their members, was lawfully swept 
out of office by the machine-gun fire of the sailors, the SR’s tried 
altogether illegally to defend it,^® and even returned shot for shot, 

18. The fact that their efforts in defending it were very feeble, that they 
were beset by hesitations, and that they renounced it right away is another 
matter. For all that, their guilt was no less. 


and even called into battle the military cadets of that deposed 

Defeated in battle, they did not repent politically. They did 
not get down on their knees to the Council of People’s Com¬ 
missars, which had declared itself to be the government. They 
continued to insist stubbornly that the only legal government was 
the one which had been ovei^rown. They refused to admit right 
away that what had been their political line for twenty years was 
a failure,^® and they did not ask to be pardoned, nor to have 
their party dissolved and cease to be considered a party.®® 

The second charge against them was that they had deepened 
the abyss of the Civil War by taking part in demonstrations—^by 
this token, rebellions—on January 5 and 6, 1918, against the 
lawful authority of the workers’ and peasants’ government. They 
were supporting their illegal Constituent Assembly (elected by 
universe, free, equal, secret, and direct voting) against the sailors 
and the Red Guards, who legally dispersed both the Assembly 
and the demonstrators. (And what good could have come of 
peaceable sessions of the Constituent Assembly? Only the con¬ 
flagration of a three-year-long Civil War. And that is why the 
Civil War began, because not all the people submitted simul¬ 
taneously and obediently to the lawful decrees of the Council of 
People’s Commissars.) 

The third charge was that they had not recognized the peace 
treaty of Brest-Litovsk, that lawful, lifesaving peace of Brest- 
Litovsk, which had cut off not Russia’s head but only parts of 
its torso. By this token, declared the official indictment, there 
were present “all the signs of high treason and criminal activity 
directed to drawing the country into war.” 

High treason! That is another club with two ends. It all de¬ 
pends on which end you have hold of. 

From this followed the serious fourth charge: in the summer 
and fall of 1918, those final months and weeks when the Kaiser’s 
Germany was scarcely managing to hold its own against the 
Allies, and the Soviet government, faithful to the Brest treaty, 

19. And it had indeed been a failure, although this did not become clear 

20. In the same way, all the local Russian governments, and those in outly¬ 
ing areas, were illegal—those in Archangel, Samara, Ufa or Omsk, the Ukraine, 
the Don, the Kuban, the Urals or Transcaucasia—inasmuch as they all de¬ 
clared themselves to be governments after the Council of People’s Commissars 
had declared itself to be the government. 

The Law Becomes a Man 


was supporting Germany in its difficult struggle with trainloads of 
foodstuffs and a monthly tribute in gold, the SR’s traitorously 
prepared (well, they didn’t actually prepare anything but, as was 
their custom, did more talking about it than anything—^but what 
if they really had!) to blow up the railroad tracks in front of one 
such train, thus keeping the gold in the Motherland. In other 
words, they “prepared criminal destruction of our public wealth, 
the railroads.” 

(At that time the Communists were not yet ashamed of and 
did not conceal the fact that, yes, indeed, Russian gold had been 
shipped off to Hitler’s future empire, and it didn’t seem to dawn 
on Krylenko despite his study in two academic departments— 
history and law—nor did any of his assistants whisper the notion 
to him, that if steel rails are public wealth, then maybe gold 
ingots are too?) 

From this fourth charge a fifth followed inexorably: the SR’s 
had intended to procure the technical equipment for such an 
explosion with money received from Allied representatives. (They 
had wanted to take money from the Entente in order not to give 
gold away to Kaiser Wilhelm.) And this was the extreme of 
treason! (Just in case, Krylenko did mutter something about the 
SR’s also having connections with Ludendorff’s General Staff, 
but this stone had indeed landed in the wrong vegetable garden, 
and he quickly dropped the whole thing.) 

From this it was only a very short step to the sixth charge: that 
the SR’s had been Entente spies in 1918. Yesterday they had 
been revolutionaries, and today they were spies. At the time, this 
accusation probably sounded explosive. But since then, and after 
many, many trials, the whole thing makes one want to vomit. 

Well, then, the seventh and tenth points concerned collabora¬ 
tion with Savinkov, or Filonenko, or the Cadets, or the “Union 
of Rebirth” (had it really ever existed?), and even with aristocratic, 
reactionary, dilettante—so-called “white-lining”—students, or 
even the White Guards. 

This series of linked charges was well expounded by the prose¬ 
cutor.*^ As a result of either hard thinking in his office, or a 
sudden stroke of genius on the rostrum, he managed in this trial 
to come up with that tone of heartfelt sympathy and friendly 
criticism which he would make use of in subsequent trials with 

21. The title of “prosecutor” had by now been restored to him. 


increasing self-assurance and in ever heavier doses, and which, in 
1937, would result in dazzling success. This tone created a com¬ 
mon ground—against the rest of the world—between those doing 
the judging and those who were being judged, and it played on 
the defendant’s particular soft spot. From the prosecutor’s ros¬ 
trum, they said to the SR’s: “After all, you and we are revolu¬ 
tionaries! [We! You and we—that adds up to usi] And how 
could you have fallen so low as to join with the Cadets? [Yes, no 
doubt your heart is breaking!] Or with the officers? Or to teach 
the aristocratic, reactionary, dilettante students your brilliantly 
worked-out scheme of conspiratorial operation?” 

None of the defendants’ replies is available to us. Did any of 
them point out that the particular characteristic of the October 
coup had been to declare war immediately on all the other parties 
and forbid them to join forces? (“They’re not hauling you in, so 
don’t you dare peep!”) But for some reason one gets the feeling 
that some of the defendants sat there with downcast eyes and 
that some of them truly had divided hearts: just how could they 
have fallen so low? After all, for the prisoner who’d been brought 
in from a dark cell, the friendly, sympathetic attitude of the 
prosecutor in the big bright hall struck home very effectively. 

And Krylenko discovered another very, very logical little path 
which was to prove very useful to Vyshinsky when he applied it 
against Kamenev and Bukharin: On entering into an alliance with 
the bourgeoisie, you accepted money from them. At first you took 
it for the cause, only for the cause, and in no wise for Party pur¬ 
poses. But where is the boundary line? Who can draw that divid¬ 
ing line? After all, isn’t the cause a Party cause also? And so you 
sank to the level—^you, the Socialist Revolutionary Party—of 
being supported by the bourgeoisie! Where was your revolutionary 

A full quota of charges—and then some—^had been piled up. 
And the tribunal could have gone out to confer and thereupon 
nailed each of the prisoners with his well-merited execution—^but, 
alas, there was a big mix-up: 

a. Everything the Socialist Revolutionary Party had been ac¬ 
cused of related to 1918. 

b. Since then, on February 27, 1919, an amnesty had been 
declared for SR’s exclusively, which pardoned all their past 

The Law Becomes a Man | 359 

belligerency against the Bolsheviks on the sole stipulation that 

they would not continue the struggle into the future. 

c. And they had not continued the struggle since that time. 

d. And it was now 1922! 

How could Krylenko get around that one? 

Some thought had been given to this point. When the Socialist 
International asked the Soviet goverimient to drop charges and 
not put its socialist brothers on trial, some thought had been 
given to it. 

In fact, at the beginning of 1919, in the face of threats from 
Kolchak and Denikin, the SR’s had renounced their task of revolt 
against the Bolsheviks and had abandoned all armed struggle 
against them. (And to aid their Communist brethren, the Samara 
SR’s had even opened up a section of the Kolchak front. .. which 
was, in fact, why the amnesty had been granted.) And right at the 
trial the defendant Gendelman, a member of the Central Com¬ 
mittee, said: “Give us the chance to make use of the whole gamut 
of so-called civil liberties, and we will not break the law.” (Give 
it to them! The “whole gamut,” to boot! What loud-mouths!) 

And it wasn’t just that they weren’t engaged in any opposition: 
they had recognized the Soviet goveriunent! In other words, they 
had renounced their former Provisional Government, yes, and the 
Constituent Assembly as well. And all they asked was a new 
election for the soviets, with freedom for all parties to engage in 
electoral campaigning. 

Now did you hear that? Did you hear that? That’s where the 
hostile bourgeois beast poked his snout through. How could we? 
After all, this is a time of crisis! After all, we are encircled by the 
enemy. (And in twenty years’ time, and fifty years’ time, and a 
hundred years’ time, for that matter, it will be exactly the same.) 
And you want freedom for the parties to engage in electoral cam¬ 
paigning, you bastards? 

Politically sober people, said Krylenko, could only laugh in 
reply and shrug their shoulders. It had been a just decision “im¬ 
mediately and by all measures of state suppression to prevent 
these groups from conducting propaganda against the govern¬ 
ment.”®* And specifically: in reply to the renunciation by the 
SR’s of armed opposition and to their peaceful proposals, they 

22. Krylenko, op. cit., p. 183. 


had put the entire Central Committee of the Socialist Revolu¬ 
tionary Party in prison! (As many of them as they could catch.) 

That’s how we do it! 

But to keep them in prison—and hadn’t it already been three 
years?—wasn’t it necessary to try them? And what should they 
be charged with? “This period had not been sufficiently investi¬ 
gated in the pretrial examination,” our prosecutor complained. 

But in the meanwhile one charge was correct. In that sanse 
February, 1919, the SR’s had passed a resolution which they had 
not put into effect, though in terms of the new Criminal Code 
that didn’t matter at all: to carry on secret agitation in the ranks 
of the Red Army in order to induce the soldiers to refuse to par¬ 
ticipate in reprisals against the peasants. 

And that was a low-down, foul betrayal of the Revolution—to 
try to persuade men not to take part in reprisals. 

And they could also be charged with everything that the so- 
called “Foreign Delegation of the Central Committee” of the SR’s 
—those prominent SR’s who had fled to Europe—^had said, writ¬ 
ten, and done (mostly words). 

But all that wasn’t enough. So here’s what they thought up: 
“Many defendants sitting here would not deserve to be indicted in 
the given case, were it not for the charge of having planned 
terrorist acts.” Allegedly, when the amnesty of 1919 had been 
published, “none of the leaders of Soviet Justice had imagined” 
that the SR’s had also planned to use terrorism against the leaders 
of the Soviet state! (Well, indeed, who could possibly have im¬ 
agined that! Tlie SR’s! And terrorism, all of a sudden? And if 
it had come to mind, it would have been necessary to include it 
in the amnesty too! Or else not accept the gap in the Kolchak 
front. It was really very, very fortunate indeed that no one had 
thought of it. Not until it was needed—then someone thought 
of it.) So this charge had not been amnestied (for, after all, 
struggle was the only offense that had been amnestied). And so 
Krylenko could now make the charge! 

And, in all likelihood, they had discovered so very much! So 
very much! 

In the first place, they had discovered what the SR leaders had 
saicP^ back in the first days after the October seizure of power. 

23. And what hadn’t those chatterboxes said in the course of a lifetime? 

The Law Becomes a Man 


Chernov, at the Fourth Congress of the SR’s, had said that the 
Party would “counterpose all its forces against any attack on the 
rights of the people, as it had” under Tsarism. (And everyone 
remembered how it had done that.) Gots had said. “If the auto¬ 
crats at Smolny also infringe on the Constituent Assembly ... the 
Socialist Revolutionary Party will remember its old tried and true 

Perhaps it did remember, but it didn’t make up its mind to 
act. Yet apparently it could be tried for it anyway. 

“In this area of our investigation,” Krylenko complained, be¬ 
cause of conspiracy “there will be little testimony from witnesses.” 
And he continued: “This has made my task extremely difficult.... 
In this area [i.e., terrorism] it is necessary, at certain moments, to 
wander about in the shadows.”^* 

What made Krylenko’s task difficult was the fact that the use 
of terrorism against the Soviet government was discussed at the 
meeting of the SR Central Committee in 1918 and rejected. And 
now, years later, it was necessary to prove that the SR’s had been 
engaged in self-deception. 

The SR’s had said at the time that they would not resort to 
terrorism until and unless the Bolsheviks began to execute so¬ 
cialists. Or, in 1920, they had said that if the Bolsheviks were to 
threaten the lives of SR hostages, then the party would take up 

So the question then was: Why did they qualify their renunci¬ 
ation of terrorism? Why wasn’t it absolute? And how had they 
even dared to think about taking up arms! “Why were there no 
statements equivalent to absolute renunciation?” (But, Comrade 
Krylenko, maybe terrorism was their “second nature”?) 

The SR Party carried out no terrorist acts whatever, and this 
was clear even from Krylenko’s summing up of the charges. But 
the prosecution kept stretching such facts as these: One of the 
defendants had in mind a plan for blowing up the locomotive of a 
train carrying the Council of People’s Commissars to Moscow. 
That meant the Central Committee of the SR’s was guilty of ter¬ 
rorism. And the terrorist Ivanova had spent one night near the 
railroad station with one charge of explosives—^which meant 

24. Krylenko, op. cit., p. 236. (AVhat lingo!) 

25. It was evidently all right to shoot the other hostages. 


there had been an attempt to blow up Trotsky’s train—and there¬ 
fore the SR Central Committee was guilty of terrorism. And 
further: Donskoi, a member of the Central Committee, warned 
Fanya Kaplan that she would be expelled from the Party if she 
fired at Lenin. But that wasn’t enough! Why hadn’t she been 
categorically forbidden to? (Or perhaps: why hadn’t she been 
denounced to the Cheka?) 

It was feathers of this sort that Krylenko kept plucking from 
the dead rooster—that the SR’s had not taken measures to stop 
individual terrorist acts by their unemployed and languishing 
gunmen. That was the whole of their terrorism. (Yes, and those 
gunmen of theirs didn’t do anything either. In 1922, two of them, 
Konopleva and Semyonov, with suspicious eagerness, enriched 
the GPU and the tribunal with their voluntary evidence, but their 
evidence couldn’t be pinned on the SR Central Committee—and 
suddenly and inexplicably these inveterate terrorists were re¬ 
leased scot-free.) 

All the evidence was such that it had to be bolstered up with 
props. Krylenko explained things this way in regard to one of 
the witnesses: “If this person had really wanted to make things 
up, it is unlikely he would have done so in such a way as to hit 
the target merely by accident.”^® (Strongly put, indeed! This 
could be said about any piece of fabricated testimony whatever.) 
Or else, about Donskoi: Could one really “suspect him of possess¬ 
ing the special insight to testify to what the prosecution wanted”? 
It was just the other way around with Konopleva: the reliability 
of her testimony was evidenced by the fact that she had not 
testified to everything the prosecution needed. (But enough for 
the defendants to be shot.) “If we ask whether Konopleva con¬ 
cocted all this, then it is . . . clear: if one is going to concoct, one 
must really concoct [He should know!], and if one is going to 
expose someone, one should really expose him.”^^ But she, you 
see, did not carry it through to the end. Then things are put still 
another way: “After all, it is unlikely that Yefimov needed to put 
Konopleva in danger of execution without cause.”^® Once more 
correct, once more strongly put! Or, even more strongly: “Could 
this encounter have taken place? Such a possibility is not ex- 

26. Krylenko, op. cit., p. 251. 

27. Ibid., p. 253. 

28. Ibid., p. 258. 

The Law Becomes a Man \ 363 

eluded.” Not excluded? That means it did take place. Off to the 

Then, too, the “subversive group.” They talked about this for a 
long time, and then suddenly: “Dissolved for lack of activity.” 
So what was all the fuss about? There had been several expropria¬ 
tions of money from Soviet institutions (the SR’s had nothing 
with which to work, to rent apartments, to move from city to 
city). But previously these had been the lovely, noble “exes ”— 
as all the revolutionists called them. And now, in a Soviet court? 
They were “robbery and concealment of stolen goods.” 

Through the material adduced by the prosecution in this trial, 
the dull, unblinking, yellow streetlamps of the Law throw light 
on the whole uncertain, wavering, deluded history of this patheti¬ 
cally garrulous, essentially lost, helpless, and even inactive party 
which never was worthily led. And its every decision or lack of 
decision, its every casting about, upsurge, or retreat, was trans¬ 
formed into and regarded as total guilt. . . guilt and more guilt. 

And if in September, 1921, ten months before the trial, the SR 
Central Committee, already sitting in the Butyrki, had written 
to the newly elected Central Committee that it did not agree to the 
overthrow of the Bolshevik dictatorship by any available means, 
but only through rallying the working masses and the dissemina¬ 
tion of propaganda—all of which meant that, even as they 
languished in prison, they did not agree to being liberated through 
either terrorism or conspiracy—^then that, too, was converted into 
their primary guilt: Aha! so that means that you did agree to its 

And what if they were, nevertheless, not guilty of overthrowing 
the government, and not guilty of terrorism, and if there had 
been hardly any “expropriations” at all, and if they had long 
since been forgiven for all the rest? Our favorite prosecutor 
pulled out his canonical weapon of last resort: “Ultimately, failure 
to denounce is a category of crime applying to all the defendants 
without exception, and it must be considered as having been 

The Socialist Revolutionary Party was guilty of not having 
squealed on itself! Now there’s something that couldn’t miss! This 
represented a discovery that juridical thought had made in the 
new Code. It was a paved highway along which they would keep 

29. Ibid., p. 305. 


driving and driving grateful descendants into Siberia! 

And Krylenko burst out in a temper: “Hardened eternal ene¬ 
mies”—that’s who the defendants are! In that case it’s quite clear 
even without any trial what has to be done with them. 

The Code was still so new that Krylenko could not even re¬ 
member the main counterrevolutionary articles by their numbers 
—^but how he slashed about with those numbers! How pro¬ 
foundly he cited and interpreted them! Just as if the blade of the 
guillotine had for decades hinged and dropped only on those 
articles. And especially new and important was the fact that we 
did not draw the distinction between methods and means the old 
Tsarist Code had drawn. Such distinctions had no influence either 
on the classification of the charges or on the penalties imposed! 
For us, intent and action were identical! A resolution had been 
passed—^we would try them for that. And whether it “was carried 
out or not had no essential significance.”®® Whether a man 
whispered to his wife in bed that it would be a good thing to 
overthrow the Soviet government or whether he engaged in 
propaganda during elections or threw a bomb, it was all one and 
the same! And the punishment was identical!!! 

And just as a foresighted painter proceeds from his first few 
brusquely drawn, angular strokes to create the whole desired 
portrait, so, for us, the entire panorama of 1937, 1945, and 1949 
becomes ever clearer and more visible in the sketches of 1922. 

But no, one thing is missing! What’s missing is the conduct of 
the defendants. They have not yet become trained sheep. They 
are still people! We have been told little, very little, but from that 
little we can understand a great deal. Sometimes through care¬ 
lessness, Krylenko cites what they said right at the trial. For 
example, the defendant Berg “accused the Bolsheviks of responsi¬ 
bility for the deaths of January 5”—shooting down those who 
were demonstrating on behalf of the Constituent Assembly. And 
what Liberov said was even more direct: “I admit I was guilty 
of failing to work hard enough at overthrowing the Bolshevik 
government in 1918.®^ Yevgeniya Ratner adhered to the same 
line, and Berg also declared: “I consider myself guilty before the 
workers’ Russia for having been unable to fight with all my 
strength against the so-called workers’ and peasants’ government, 

30. Ibid., p. 185. 

31. Ibid., p. 103. 

The Law Becomes a Man | 365 

but I hope that my time has not yet gone.”®^ (It has gone, darling, 
all gone!) 

Of course, there is in all this an element of the ancient passion 
for the resounding phrase, but there is firmness too. 

The prosecutor argued: the accused are dangerous to Soviet 
Russia because they consider everything they did to have been a 
good thing. “Perhaps certain of the defendants find their own 
consolation in the hope that some future chronicler will praise 
them or their conduct at the trial. 

And a decree of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee 
issued after the trial declared: “At the trial itself they reserved 
to themselves the right to continue” their former activity. 

The defendant Gendelman-Grabovsky (a lawyer himself) was 
conspicuous during the trial for his arguments with Krylenko on 
tampering with the testimony of witnesses and on “special methods 
of treating witnesses before the trial”—^in other words, the 
obvious working-over they had gotten from the GPU. (It is all 
there! All the elements are there! There was only a little way to 
go before attaining the ideal.) Apparently the preliminary in¬ 
terrogation had been conducted under the supervision of the 
prosecutor—that same Krylenko. And during that process in¬ 
dividual instances of a lack of consistency in testimony had been 
ironed out. Yet some testimony was presented for the first time 
only at the trial itself. 

Well, so what! So there were some rough spots. So it wasn’t 
perfect. But in the last analysis, “We have to declare altogether 
clearly and coldly that... we are not concerned with the question 
of how the court of history is going to view our present deed.”^* 

And as far as the rough spots are concerned, we will take them 
under advisement and correct them. 

But as it was, Krylenko, squirming, had to bring up—prob¬ 
ably for the first and last time in Soviet jurisprudence—^the matter 
of the inquiry, the initial inquiry required before investigation. 
And here’s how cleverly he handled this point: The proceeding 
which took place in the absence of the prosecutor and which you 
considered the investigation was actually the inquiry. And the 
proceeding in the presence of the prosecutor which you regarded 

32. Ibid. 

33. Ibid., p. 325. 

34. Ibid. 


as the reinvestigation, when all the loose ends were gathered up 
and all the bolts tightened, was really the investigation. The dis¬ 
organized “materials provided by the Organs for inquiry and 
unverified by the investigation have much less value as proof 
than the materials provided by the skillfully directed investiga¬ 

Clever, wasn’t it? Just try grinding that up in your mortar! 

To be practical about it, Krylenko no doubt resented having 
to spend half a year getting ready for this trial, then another two 
months barking at the defendants, and then having to drag out 
his summation for fifteen hours, when all these defendants “had 
more than once been in the hands of the extraordinary Organs at 
times when these Organs had extraordinary powers; but, thanks to 
some circumstances or other, they had succeeded in surviving.”^^ 
So now Krylenko had to slave away to try and get them executed 

There was, of course, “only one possible verdict—execution 
for every last one of them”!®'' But Krylenko qualifies this gen¬ 
erously. Because this case is being watched by the whole world, 
the prosecutor’s demand “does not constitute a directive to the 
court” which the latter would “be obliged to accept immediately 
for consideration or decision.”®® 

What a fine court, too, that requires such an explanation! 

And, indeed, the tribunal did demonstrate its daring in the 
sentences it imposed: it did not hand down the death penalty 
for “every last one of them,” but for fourteen only. Most of the 
rest got prison and camp sentences, while sentences in the form 
of productive labor were imposed on another hundred. 

And just remember, reader, remember: “All the other courts 
of the Republic watch what the Supreme Tribunal does. It pro¬ 
vides them with guidelines.”®® 

The sentences of the Verkhtrib are used “as directives for their 
guidance.”^® As to how many more would now be railroaded in 
the provinces, you can figure that out for yourself. 

And, probably, on appeal the decision of the Presidium of the 
All-Russian Central Executive Committee was worth the whole 

35. Ibid., p. 238. 

36. Ibid., p. 322. 

37. Ibid., p. 326. 

38. Ibid., p. 319. 

39. Ibid., p. 407. 

40. Ibid., p. 409. 

The Law Becomes a Man \ 367 

trial: the death sentences were to remain in effect, but not to be 
carried out for the time being. The further fate of those con¬ 
demned would depend, then, on the conduct of those SR’s who 
had not yet been arrested, apparently including those abroad as 
well. In other words: If you move against us, we’ll squash them. 

In the fields of Russia they were reaping the second peacetime 
harvest. There was no shooting except in the courtyards of the 
Cheka. (Perkhurov in Yaroslavl, Metropolitan Veniamin in 
Petrograd. And always, always, always.) Beneath the azure sky 
our first diplomats and journalists sailed abroad across the blue 
waters. And the Central Executive Committee of Workers’ and 
Peasants’ Deputies thrust into its pockets eternal hostages. 

The members of the ruling Party read all sixty issues of Pravda 
devoted to the trial—^for they all read the papers—and all of 
them said: “Yes, yes, yes.” No one mumbled: “No!” 

What, then, were they surprised at in 1937? What was there to 
complain about? Hadn’t all the foundations of lawlessness been 
laid—^first by the extrajudicial reprisals of the Cheka, and then 
by these early trials and this yovmg Code? Wasn’t 1937 also 
expedient (expedient for Stalin’s purposes and, perhaps. History’s, 
too, for that matter)? 

Prophetically, Krylenko let it slip that they were judging not 
the past but the future. ^ 

Only the first swath cut by the sc)fthe is diflScult. 

On or about August 20, 1924, Boris Viktorovich Savinkov 
crossed the Soviet border. He was immediately arrested and taken 
to the Lubyanka.^^ In all, the interrogation lasted for just one 

41. Many hypotheses were advanced about his return. Only a little while 
ago, a certain Ardamatsky, a person obviously connected with the archives 
and personnel of the Committee for State Security, published a story which, 
despite being adorned with pretentiously inflated literary gewgaws, is evidently 
close to the truth. (The magazine Neva, No. 11, 1967.) Having induced certain 
of Savinkov’s agents to betray him and having deceived others, the GPU used 
them to set a foolproof trap, convincing Savinkov that inside Russia a large 
underground organization was languishing for lack of a worthy leader! It 
would have been impossible to devise a more effective trap! And it would have 
been impossible for Savinkov, after such a confused and sensational life, merely 
to spin it out quietly to the end in Nice. He couldn’t bear not trying to pull off 
one more feat and not returning to Russia and his death. 


session, which consisted solely of voluntary testimony and an 
evaluation of his activity. The official indictment was ready by 
August 23. The speed was totally unbelievable, but it had im¬ 
pact. (Someone had estimated the situation quite accurately: to 
have forced false and pitiful testimony out of Savinkov by torture 
would only have wrecked the authenticity of the picture.) 

In the official indictment, couched in already-well-developed 
terminology that turned everything upside down, Savinkov was 
charged with just about ever)ffiiing imaginable: with being a 
“consistent enemy of the poorest peasantry”; with “assisting the 
Russian bourgeoisie in carrying out its imperialist ambitions” 
(in other words, he was in favor of continuing the war with 
Germany); with “maintaining relations with representatives of 
the Allied command” (this would have been when he was in 
charge of the Ministry of War!); with “becoming a member of 
soldiers’ committees for purposes of provocation” (i.e., he was 
elected by the soldiers’ committees); and, last but not least, some¬ 
thing to make even the chickens cackle with laughter—with 
having had “monarchist sympathies.” 

But all that was old hat. There were some new items too— 
the standard charges for all future trials: money from the im¬ 
perialists; espionage for Poland (they left out Japan, believe it 
or not); yes, and he had also wanted to poison the Red Army with 
potassium cyanide (but for some reason he did not poison even 
one Red Army soldier). 

On August 26 the trial began. The presiding judge was Ulrikh 
—this being our earliest encounter with him. And there was no 
prosecutor at all, nor any defense lawyer. 

Savinkov was lackadaisical in defending himself, and he raised 
hardly any objection at all to the evidence. He conceived of this 
trial in a lyrical sense. It was his last encounter with Russia and 
his last opportunity to explain himself in public. And to repent. 
(Not of these imputed sins, but of others.) 

(And that theme song fitted well here, and greatly confused the 
defendant: “After all, we are all Russians together. You and we 
adds up to us. You love Russia beyond a doubt, and we respect 
your love—and do we not love Russia too? In fact, are we not 
at present the fortress and the glory of Russia? And you wanted 
to fight against us? Repent!”) 

The Law Becomes a Man \ 369 

But it was the sentence that was most wonderful: “Imposition 
of the death penalty is not required in the interests of preserving 
revolutionary law and order, and, on the grounds that motives of 
vengeance should not influence the sense of justice of the prole¬ 
tarian masses”—^the death penalty was commuted to ten years’ 

Now that was a sensation! And it confused many minds too. 
Did it mean a relaxation? A transformation? Ulrikh even pub¬ 
lished in Pravda an apologetic explanation of why Savinkov had 
not been executed. 

You see how strong the Soviet government has become in 
only seven years! Why should it be afraid of some Savinkov or 
other! (On the twentieth anniversary of the Revolution, it is 
going to get weaker, and don’t be too hard on us because we are 
going to execute thousands.) 

And so, on the heels of the first riddle of his return, there 
would have been the second riddle of his being spared capital 
punishment had it not been overshadowed in May, 1925, by a 
third riddle: in a state of depression, Savinkov jumped from an 
unbarred window into the interior courtyard of the Lubyanka, 
and the gaypayooshniki, his guardian angels, simply couldn’t 
manage to stop him and hold on to his big, heavy body. However, 
just in case—so that there wouldn’t be any scandal in the service 
—Savinkov left them a suicide letter in which he explained 
logically and coherently why he was killing himself—and this 
letter was so authentically phrased, so clearly written in Savin- 
kov’s style and vocabulary, that even Lev Borisovich, the son of 
the deceased, was fully convinced of its genuineness and explained 
to everyone in Paris that no one except his father could have 
written it and that he had ended his life because he realized his 
political bankruptcy. 

And all the major and most famous trials are still ahead of us. 

42. And we, silly prisoners of a later Lubyanka, confidently parroted to 
one another that the steel nets hanging in the Lubyanka stairwells had been 
installed after Savinkov had committed suicide there. Thus do we succumb to 
fancy legends to the extent of forgetting that the experience of jailers is, after 
all, international in character. Such nets existed in American prisons as long ago 
as the beginning of the century—and how could Soviet technology have been 
allowed to lag behind? 

In 1937, when he was dying in a camp in the Kolyma, the former Chekist 
Artur Pryubel told one of his fellow prisoners that he had been one of the 
four who threw Savinkov from a fifth-floor window into the Lubyanka court- 


yard! (And there is no conflict between that statement and Ardamatsky’s recent 
account: There was a low sill; it was more like a door to the balcony than a 
window—they had picked the right room! Only, according to Ardamatsky, the 
guards were careless; according to Pryubel, they rushed him all together.) 

Thus the second riddle, the unusually lenient sentence, was unraveled by 
the crude third “riddle.” 

The story ascribed to Pryubel could not be checked, but I had heard it, and 
in 1967 I told it to M. P. Yakubovich. He, with his still youthful enthusiasm 
and shining eyes, exclaimed: “I believe it. Things fit! And I didn’t believe 
Blyumkin; I thought he was just bragging.” What he had learned was this: 
At the end of the twenties, Blyumkin had told Yakubovich, after swearing him 
to secrecy, that he was the one who had written Savinkov’s so-called suicide 
note, on orders from the GPU. Apparently Blyumkin was allowed to see 
Savinkov in his cell constantly while he was in prison. He kept him amused in the 
evenings. (Did Savinkov sense that death was creeping up on him . . . sly, 
friendly death, which gives you no chance to guess the form your end will 
take?) And this had helped Blyumkin acquire Savinkov’s manner of speech 
and thought, had enabled him to enter into the framework of his last ideas. 

And they ask: Why throw him out the window? Wouldn’t it have been 
easier simply to poison him? Perhaps they showed someone the remains or 
thought they might need to. 

And where, if not here, is the right place to report the fate of Blyumkin, 
who for all his Chekist omnipotence was fearlessly brought up short by Man¬ 
delstam. Ehrenburg began to tell Blyumkin’s story, and suddenly became 
ashamed and dropped the subject. And there is a story to tell, too. After the 
1918 rout of the Left SR’s, Blyumkin, the assassin of the German Ambassador 
Mirbach, not only went unpunished, was not only spared the fate of all the 
other Left SR’s, but was protected by Dzerzhinsky, just as Dzerzhinsky had 
wanted to protect Kosyrev. Superficially he converted to Bolshevism, and was 
kept on, one gathers, for particularly important assassinations. At one point, 
close to the thirties, he was secretly sent to Paris to kill Bazhenov, a member 
of the staff of Stalin’s secretariat who had defected, and one night he succeeded 
in throwing him off a train. However, his gambler’s blood, or perhaps his 
admiration of Trotsky, led Blyumkin to the Princes’ Islands in Turkey, where 
Trotsky was living. He asked Trotsky whether there were any assignments he 
could carry out for him in the Soviet Union, and Trotsky gave him a package 
for Radek. Blyumkin delivered it, and his visit to Trotsky would have remained 
a secret had not the brilliant Radek already been a stool pigeon. Radek brought 
down Blyumkin, who was thereupon devoured by the maw of the monster his 
own hands had suckled with its first bloody milk. 

Chapter 10 

The Law Matures 

But where were those mobs insanely storming the barbed-wire 
barricades on our western borders whom we were going to shoot, 
under Article 71 of the Criminal Code, for unauthorized return 
to the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic? Contrary 
to scientific prediction, there were no such crowds, and that 
article of the Code dictated by Lenin to Kursky remained use¬ 
less. The only Russian crazy enough to do it was Savinkov, and 
they had ducked applying that article even to him. On the other 
hand, the opposite penalty—exile abroad instead of execution 
—was tried out immediately on a large scale. 

In those days when he was composing the Criminal Code, 
Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, developing his brilUant idea, wrote in the 
heat of the moment, on May 19: 

Comrade Dzerzhinsky! On the question of exiling abroad writers 
and professors who aid the counterrevolution: this is a measure which 
must be prepared most carefully. Unless we prepare well, we can 
commit stupidities. . . . We must arrange the business in such a way 
as to catch these “military spies” and keep on catching them con¬ 
stantly and systematically and exiling them abroad. I beg you to show 
this secretly, and without making any copies of it, to members of the 

The extreme secrecy was natural in view of the importance 

1. Lenin, fifth edition, Vol. 54, pp. 265-266. 



and instructive impact of the measure. The crystal-clear line-up 
of forces on the class front in Soviet Russia was, to put it simply, 
spoiled by the presence of this shapeless, jellylike stain of the old 
bourgeois intelligentsia, which in the ideological area genuinely 
played the role of military spies —and the very best solution one 
could imagine was to scrape off that stagnant scum of ideas and 
toss it out abroad. 

Comrade Lenin had already been stricken by his illness, but 
the members of the Politburo had apparently given their approval, 
and Comrade Dzerzhinsky had done the catching. At the end of 
1922, about three hundred prominent Russian humanists were 
loaded onto—a barge, perhaps? No, they were put on a steamer 
and sent off to the European garbage dump. (Among those who 
settled down in exile and acquired reputations were the philos¬ 
ophers N. O. Lossky, S. N. Bulgakov, N. A. Berdyayev, F. A. 
Stepun, B. P. Vysheslavtsev, L. P. Karsavin, S. L. Frank, I. A. 
Ilin; the historians S. P. Melgunov, V. A. Myakotin, A. A. 
Kizevetter, I. I. Lapshin, and others; the writers and publicists 
Y. I. Aikhenvald, A. S. Izgoyev, M. A. Osorgin, A. V. Peshe- 
khonov. At the beginning of 1923, additional small groups were 
sent off, including for example V. F. Bulgakov, the secretary of 
Lev Tolstoi. And because of questionable associations some 
mathematicians also shared this fate, including D. F. Selivanov.) 

However, it didn’t work out constantly and systematically. Per¬ 
haps the roar with which the emigres announced that they re¬ 
garded it as a “gift” made it apparent that this punishment left 
something to be desired, that it was a mistake to have let go 
good material for the executioner, and that poisonous flowers 
might grow on that garbage dump. And so they abandoned this 
form of punishment. And all subsequent purging led to either the 
executioner or the Archipelago. 

The improved Criminal Code promulgated in 1926, which, 
in effect, continued right into Khrushchev’s times, tied all the 
formerly scattered political articles into one durable dragnet— 
Article 58—and the roundup was under way. The catch swiftly 
expanded to include the engineering and technical intelligentsia; 
it was especially dangerous because it occupied a firm position 
in the economy and it was hard to keep an eye on it with the 
help of the Progressive Doctrine alone. It now became clear that 

The Law Matures \ 373 

the trial in defense of Oldenborger had been a mistake—after all, 
a very nice little center had been organized there. And Krylenko’s 
declaration that “there was no question of sabotage on the part 
of the engineers in 1920 and 1921”^ had granted an all too hasty 
absolution. Now it was not sabotage but worse— wrecking, a 
word discovered, it appears, by a rank-and-file interrogator in 
the Shakhty case. 

It had no sooner been established that wrecking was what had 
to be tracked down—^notwithstanding the nonexistence of this 
concept in the entire history of mankind—^than they began to 
discover it without any trouble in all branches of industry and 
in all individual enterprises. However, there was no unity of plan, 
no perfection of execution, in all these hit-or-miss discoveries, 
although Stalin, by virtue of his character, and of course the 
entire investigative branch of our judicial apparatus, evidently 
aspired to just that. But our Law had finally matured and could 
show the world something really perfect—a big, coordinated, 
well-organized trial, this time a trial of engineers. And that is 
how the Shakhty case came about. 

K. The Shakhty Case—May 18-July 15, 1928 

This case was tried before a Special Assize of the Supreme 
Court of the U.S.S.R., under Presiding Judge A. Y. Vyshinsky 
(who was still the Rector of First Moscow University); the chief 
accuser was N. V. Krylenko (what a significant encounter!— 
rather like a handing over of the juridical relay-baton).® There 
were fifty-three defendants and fifty-six witnesses. How spec¬ 

Alas, in its spectacular aspect lay the weakness of this case. 
If one were to tie to each of the defendants only three threads of 
evidence, there would still have to be 159 of them. And mean¬ 
while Krylenko had only ten fingers and Vyshinsky another ten. 
Of course, the “defendants strove to expose their heinous crimes 

2. Krylenko, Za Pyat Let, p. 437. 

3. And the members of the tribunal were the old revolutionaries Vasilyev- 
Yuzhin and Antonov-Saratovsky. The very simple folk sound of their family 
names inclines one to a favorable reaction. They are easy to remember. And 
when suddenly, in 1962, obituaries of certain victims of repression appeared in 
Izvestiya, whose signature was at the bottom? That of the long-lived Antonov- 


to society”—but not all of them did, only sixteen; thirteen 
wiggled back and forth, and twenty-four didn’t admit their guilt 
at all.^ This introduced an impermissible discord, and the masses 
could certainly not understand it. Along with its positive aspects 
—^which had, incidentally, already been displayed in earlier trials 
—such as the helplessness of the defendants and of the defense 
attorneys, and their inability either to budge or to deflect the 
implacable boulder of the sentence—the shortcomings of the 
new trial were fully apparent. Someone less experienced than 
Krylenko might have been forgiven them—^but not he. 

On the threshold of the classless society, we were at last capable 
of realizing the conflictless trial —a reflection of the absence 
of inner conflict in our social structure—in which not only the 
judge and the prosecutor but also the defense lawyers and the 
defendants themselves would strive collectively to achieve their 
common purpose. 

Anyway, the whole scale of the Shakhty case, comprising as 
it did the coal industry alone and the Donets Basin alone, was 
disproportionately paltry for this era. 

It appears that then and there, on the day the Shakhty case 
ended, Krylenko began to dig a new, capacious pit. (Even two 
of his own colleagues in the Shakhty case—the public accusers 
Osadchy and Shein—fell into it.) And it goes without saying 
that the entire apparatus of the OGPU, which had already landed 
in Yagoda’s firm hands, aided him willingly and adroitly. It was 
necessary to create and uncover an engineers’ organization which 
encompassed the entire country. And for this purpose it was 
essential to have several strong, prominent “wreckers” at its head. 
And what engineer was unaware of just such an unequivocally 
strong and impatiently proud leader—Pyotr Akimovich Pal- 
chinsky? An important mining engineer from as far back as the 
beginning of the century, he had been the Deputy Chairman of 
the War Industry Committee during World War I—in other 
words, he had directed the war efforts of all Russian industry, 
which had managed, during the course of the war, to make up for 
the failures in Tsarist preparations. After February, 1917, he 
became the Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry. He had been 
persecuted under the Tsar for revolutionary activity. He had been 
imprisoned three times after October—^in 1917, 1918, and 1922. 

4. Pravda, May 24, 1928, p. 3. 

The Law Matures | 375 

From 1920 on, he had been a professor at the Mining Institute 
and a consultant to the Gosplan—the State Planning Commis¬ 
sion. (For more details about him see Part III, Chapter 10.) 

They picked this Palchinsky to be the chief defendant in a 
grandiose new trial. However, the thoughtless Krylenko, stepping 
into what was for him a new field—engineering—^not only knew 
nothing about the resistance of materials but could not even 
conceive of the potential resistance of souls . . . despite ten 
years of already sensational activity as a prosecutor. Krylenko’s 
choice turned out to be a mistake. Palchinsky resisted every 
pressure the OGPU knew—and did not surrender; in fact, he 
died without signing any sort of nonsense at all. N. K. von Meek 
and A. F. Velichko were subjected to torture with him, and they, 
too, appear not to have given in. We do not yet know whether 
they died while under torture or whether they were shot. But 
they proved it was possible to resist and that it was possible not 
to give in—and thus they left behind a spotlight of reproach to 
shine on all the famous subsequent defendants. 

To cover up his defeat, on May 24, 1929, Yagoda published 
a brief GPU communique on the execution of the three for large- 
scale wrecking, which also announced the condemnation of many 
other unidentified persons.® 

But how much time had been spent for nothing! Nearly a whole 
year! And how many nights of interrogation! And how much 
inventiveness on the part of the interrogators! And all to no 
avail. And Krylenko had to start over from the very beginning 
and find a leader who was both brilliant and strong, and at the 
same time utterly weak and totally pliable. But so little did he 
understand this cursed breed of engineers that another whole 
year was spent in unsuccessful tries. From the summer of 1929 
on, he worked over Khrennikov, but Khrennikov, too, died 
without agreeing to play a dastardly role. They twisted old 
Fedotov, but he was too old, and furthermore he was a textile 
engineer, which was an unprofitable field. And one more year 
was wasted! The country was waiting for the all-inclusive 
wreckers’ trial, and Comrade Stalin was waiting—^but things 
just couldn’t seem to fall into place for Krylenko.® It was only 

5. Izvestiya, May 24, 1929. 

6. And it is quite possible that this failure of his was held against him by 
the Leader and led to the symbolic destruction of the prosecutor—on the very 
same guillotine as his victims. 


in the summer of 1930 that someone found or suggested Ramzin, 
the Director of the Thermal Engineering Institute! He was 
arrested, and in three months a magnificent drama was prepared 
and performed, the genuine perfection of our justice and an un¬ 
attainable model for world justice. 

L. The Promparty (Industrial Party) Trial— 

November 25-December 7, 1930 

This case was tried at a Special Assize of the Supreme Court, 
with the same Vyshinsky, the same Antonov-Saratovsky, and 
that same favorite of ours, Krylenko. 

This time none of those “technical reasons” arose to prevent 
the reader’s being offered a full stenographic report of the triar 
or to prohibit the attendance of foreign correspondents. 

There was a majesty of concept: all the nation’s industry, all 
its branches and planning organs, sat on the defendants’ benches. 
(However, only the eyes of the man who arranged it all could 
see the crevices into which the mining industry and railroad 
transportation had disappeared.) At the same time there was a 
thrift in the use of material: there were only eight defendants in 
all. (The mistakes of the Shakhty trial had been taken into 

You are going to exclaim: Can eight men represent the en¬ 
tire industry of the country? Yes, indeed; we have more even 
than we need. Three out of eight are solely in textiles, represent¬ 
ing the industrial branch most important for national defense. But 
there were, no doubt, crowds of witnesses? Just seven in all, who 
were exactly the same sort of wreckers as the defendants and were 
also prisoners. But there were no doubt bales of documents that 
exposed them? Drawings? Projects? Directives? Summaries of 
results? Proposals? Dispatches? Private correspondence? No, 
not one! You mean to say. Not even one tiny piece of paper? 
How could the GPU let that sort of thing get by? They had 
arrested all those people, and they hadn’t even grabbed one little 
piece of paper? “There had been a lot,” but “it had all been 
destroyed.” Because “there was no place to keep the files.” At the 

7. Protsess Prompartii {The Trial of the Promparty), Moscow, Sovetskoye 
Zakonodatelstvo (Soviet Legislation Publishing House), 1931. 

The Law Matures 


trial they produced only a few newspaper articles, published in 
the emigre press and our own. But in that event how could the 
prosecution present its case? Well, to be sure, there was Nikolai 
Vasilyevich Krylenko. And, to be sure, it wasn’t the first time 
either. “The best evidence, no matter what the circumstances, is 
the confessions of the defendants.”® 

But what confessions! These confessions tvere not forced but 
inspired—^repentance tearing w